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Full text of "Carte italiane"

Carte Italiane 




Exile 

& 

Exile of the Self 

Special Edition Fall 1994 



CARTE ITALIANE 

A Journal of Italian Studies 



Special Edition Fall 1994 

Department of Italian, UCLA 



Editorìal Board 

Editors-in-chief. Richard Collins, Glenn Lawse 
Cover design: Kristin Phillips 

The Editorial Board for this Special Edition was constituted of graduate students 
from the Department of Italian, UCLA. 

Advisory Board 

Luigi Ballerini, Italian, UCLA 

Franco Betti, Italian, UCLA 

Marga Cottino- Jones, Italian, UCLA 

Tom Harrison, Italian, UCLA 

Lucia Re, Italian, Comparative Literature, UCLA 

Edward Tuttle, Italian, Romance Linguistics, UCLA 

Carte Italiane, edited by the graduate students of the Department of Italian at the University of Cah- 
fomia, Los Angeles, is published annually under the auspices ofthe UCLA Department of Italian and is 
largely flinded by the UCLA Graduate Students Association. Typescripts in English or Italian in ali areas 
of Italian studies must foUowthe guidelines ofthe MZv4 Handbook andbe submitted in duplicate and on 
3-1/2" diskette by Aprii I, 1994 to: 

Editor, Carte Italiane 
UCLA Department of Italian 
340 Royce Hall 
405 Hilgard Avenue 
Los Angeles, CA 90024 
Phone:310-825-1940 

Ali articles are indexed in the MIA International Bibliography. 

Subscription rates to Carte Italiane are $6.00 for individuai and $8.00 for institutions in US funds. 
Overseas subscribers please add $1.00 for shipping. 

Copyright © 1994 by the Regents ofthe University of California. Ali rights reserved. 

ISSN 0747-9412 



Contents 



Foreword v 

Napoleon and Other Pimps in Le confessioni d'un italiano 1 

EricAversa 

Madness as Exclusion and Self-Exclusion 15 

in Mario Tobino and Dino Campana 
Giovanna Pompele 

Amelia Rosselli and Exile in the Serie ospedaliera 22 

Carmen Di Cinque 

Amelia Rosselli 's Sleep (Sonno): Beyond the Double-Margin 30 

Jeremy Parzen 

La colpa di essere nati: Exile Through the Eyes of Italian Jews 40 

Paula Matthews 

Stealing Home: Flight from Exile in // labro di bambini 59 

Antonio Mini 

La perdita della sessualità come conquista della donna pirandelliana 69 

Francesca Chiostri 

Holy Alliance: Saint Catherine of Siena and the Paradox of Flesh 82 

Megan Furth 



Dissimulation, Female Embodiment and the Nation: 98 

Renata Vigano' s L 'Agnese va a morire 
Carolyn Daly 

Pirandello's Wheelbarrow: A Revenge on Imagology 110 

Richard Collins 

The Entrance of Beatrice in Dante's Purgatorio: 1 18 

Revelation, Duality and Identity 
John Laskin 



Fo reword 



Exile and Exile of the Self was originally a conference organized by the 
Department of Italian at the University of California, Los Angeles which was 
held November 12-13, 1993. This particular volume of Carte Italiane is out of 
the ordinary insofar as it is the publication of the proceedings of the conference. 
After months of consideration and reflection the organizational committee chose 
Exile and Exile ofthe Selfbased on two thematic currents. On the one hand, it 
was our desire to solicit papers addressing exile in its politicai and cultural 
dimensions. On the other it was intended as an invitation for papers addressing 
exile in a more existential arena, for example, the very act of writing as a means 
of self-imposed exile. The papers published here are testimony to the richness 
and variety of literary themes which the notion of "exile" was able to provoke. 

Richard Collins & Glenn Lawse 
Editors-in-chief 



Napoleon and Other Pimps in 
Le confessioni d^un italiano 



In the beginning of le confessioni d 'un italiano Ippolito Nievo ' s protagonist 
seeks to "ingenuously" impart the "moral" of his life, that it might be useful to 
others "che da altri tempi son destinati a sentire le conseguenze meno imperfette 
di quei primi influssi attuati." Despite or perhaps because of such an ingenuous 
beginning, critics have often overlooked Nievo 's greatest novel. Even ardent 
supporters of Nievo's work such as Folco Portinari have labeled it "un romanzo 
di giovinezza," focusing exclusively on its youthful excesses. Others such as 
Marinella Colummi Camerino focus on the multiplicity and heterogeneity of the 
text, noting that such multiplicity is consistent with the diversity of Nievo's own 
literary production. And while any reader of this novel must agree that it 
possesses incredible width of scope, before it might be productive to consider the 
pluraliste and divergent tendencies of this text, it might be useful to consider to 
what extent it does have unificatory and linear tendencies. 

After ali this is a novel whose protagonist proclaims to write "ingenuously" 
and to impart a "moral." Any reader acquainted with the numerous adventures 
of the text will realize that what this moral might be could benefit from 
clarification. Many critics I suspect have been sidetracked by the obvious answer 
that the novel is a fiercely patriotic proponent for the unification of Italy and a 
somewhat liberal democratic govemment. But it is hard to understand the text 
ftilly when one cannot fiilly understand the obsessive moralistic refrain which 
resounds throughout its course. The protagonist has an ambiguous and 
independent politicai stance and ideology, an ideology which while apparently 
traditional is not. The text describes the two great careers of Carlino Altoviti's 
life, that of an itinerant revolutionary and Italian patriot, and his passionate 
relationship with the love of his life, the Countess Pisana of Fratta. In the course 
of these two trajectories, the narrator will interrupt with a persistent, almost 
repetitious moralistic refrain on the need for proper education and social 
organization, sf)ecifically lamenting the manner and nature ofPisana' s upbringing. 
For many readers digressions into lecture are perhaps the most unpalatable 
aspects of the novel. Who taught Carlino to be such a busybody? If there was 



CARTE ITALIANE 



anything precocious and alarming about Pisana' s temperament and behavior in 
her childish games that Carlino never sufiFered to interpret as innocent, his 
sentiments seem doubly so. 

One must understand that Le confessioni seeks to provide a map or 
guidebook to those bom into the modem world, a world where feudalism is 
remembered nostalgically as a forever lost youth, where modemity is represented 
as an unsatisfactory adulthood. These memoirs recited at "voce alta" are 
desperately trying to convince themselves as to the truth of their own events and 
the verity of the conclusions drawn from them. In this respect the novel fits 
tightly among its generic models such as Rousseau 's Confessions and Le ultime 
lettere di Jacopo Ortis. Like Rousseau 's work it perverts a genre normally 
reserved for the admission of guilt to establish the protagonist's innocence. 
Carlino' s story is so densely permeated by the conventions of its genre that at 
the end of his life he blatantly asks for the absolution sought by nineteenth 
century confession novels. "Ed ora che avete stretto dimestichezza con me, o 
amici lettori, ora che avete ascoltato pazientemente le lunghe confessioni di 
Carlo Altoviti, vorrete darmi l'assoluzione?" (Nievo 909). From such evidence 
one can perceive the text's own conception of its aim or teleology. But in keeping 
with the tradition of confessional narratives, the rules of which permit the 
confessee to seek maximum exculpation with a minimum of confession, before 
pardoning our friend the narrator, we owe it to ourselves to understand exactly 
what we are pardoning. 

Lacan tells us that "the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other" 
(3 1 ). We should understand that this text is permeated at many levels by desire: 
it is the story of the desire to be loved; the desire for a social order free from enemy 
invasions, bad govemment and internai unrest; the fundamental desire for 
economie security; fmally it expresses desire for an order or meaning in reality 
which reconciles the frustration of the above mentioned impulses. Ali of the 
latter desires are subservient to the former, the primal desire of the subject to be 
recognized. In Carlino we see this as his politicai beliefs and career begins when 
he seeks to sublimate his passion for Pisana. It is of course naturai that through 
narrative we come to terms with the gap between our own desires and the reality 
of the extemal world. As Hayden White points out, narrative appeals to a basic 
human instinct and is remarkably suited to act as an interface between human 
reasoning and reality. 

What wish is enacted, what desire is gratified, by the fantasy that real 
events are properly represented when they can be shown to display the formai 
coherency of a story? In the enigma of this wish, this desire, we catch a glimpse 
of the cultural function of narrativizing discourse in general, an intimation of 
the psychological impulse behind the apparently universal need not only to 



NAPOLEON AND OTHER PIMPS IN LE CONFESSIONI D 'UN ITALIANO 



narrate but to give to events an aspect of Narrativity. 

If we view narration and Narrativity as the instruments by which the 
conflicting claims of the imaginary and the real are mediated, arbitrated, or 
resolved in a discourse, we begin to comprehend both the appeal of narrative 
and the grounds for refusing it. (4) 

Carlino's confessioni provide just such a mediation between the imaginary and 
the real, and present themselves as a meaningfiil interpretation of events, not 
only of the character's life, but of the events of his eighty years. White points out 
that narrative invites the reader to a shared interpretation of reality, and in this 
respect the text poses a contract with the reader, ofifering a satisfaction in the form 
of meaning, but subversively requires the reader to accept hidden terms. 

The experiences of Nievo's maturity are a never ending symbolic youth, a 
career of permanent displacement in a disordered environment. Franco Moretti 
explains, the very concepì of youth has its origin in social instability . ' Youth 
must be the period in which the individuai seeks his proper role in society, and 
the discovery of a proper fixed and stable position represents in its own right a 
happy ending to the individuai 's narrative. The Bildungsroman is the narrative 
form which reconciles a populace with the social upheaval of the industriai 
revolution, and creates a mental space and moral ground to accept a world that 
is constantly in flux. While Carlino eventually finds personal prosperity in a 
career as a shipping merchant, as long as Venice is ruled by a foreign govenmient 
his life has a transitory character to it by his own defmition. Carlino's life is 
emblematic of the modem reality that along with the disappearance of a 
traditional childhood sure of repeating the successfiil careers of one's ancestors, 
one also can no longer expect to fmd any fixed or stable role in the new socio- 
economie order. One need only think of the many careers Carlino tries his band 
at, or the change in fortunes of the boy tuming the spit who enjoys prosperity at 
the end of the novel, while the successors to the powerful Conte di Fratta subsist 
on a diet of coffee. The octogenarian's life thus represents the trend mentioned 
above by Moretti; the dislocation from countryside to the city, the need to 
reposition oneself with regard to the new industriai modes of production 
sweeping through Europe. Moretti's analysis ties the model for personal life to 
the trends of historical development, an analysis which we will see is especially 
applicable to Nievo. 

During the collapse of Saint Mark's Republic Carlino becomes Secretary of 
the new Municipality of Venice. Our protagonist's career parodies in many ways 
that of his mentor's, the brilliant Lucilio. The fiendishly clever doctor like 
Carlino has only one true love in his life, and a revolutionary passion with which 
it is inextricably intertwined. Lucilio is bourgeois and can never aspire to marry 
Clara while she is a member of the Venetian aristocracy. In the novel he single- 



CARTE ITALIANE 



handedly hastens the demise of the feudal regime, not merely because of his 
deeply rooted ideological beliefs, but to consummate his singular passion. But 
while Lucilio outsmarts himself and places Clara foreverbeyond his reach when 
she joins a convent, Carlino is too distracted and awkward to seek Pisana 's hand 
while it is obtainable, and thus cedes her to marry S. E. Navagero. Carlino is 
always simultaneously attracted and repulsed by Pisana, motivated by sexual and 
egoistic impulses to replace the affection of the mother he never knew, and he 
never wants what he can have. 

This simultaneous repulsion and attraction runs parallel to the tension 
between youth and maturity, and is also the origin of that tension. Like Lucilio, 
Carlino fmds his life centered around his relationship with a woman, or more to 
the point his inability to reconcile himself with her affection. Carlino can never 
commit himself to Pisana, and he can never reject her. He is forever horrified 
by the prospect that she might be unfaithfiil to him, but it is this very prospect 
that attracts him to her. Carlino Altoviti provides an interesting variation on the 
theme of the man who must separate women into two categories. On the one hand 
he seeks a woman who provides a pure and chaste affection, representing a 
matemal figure in the mind of the subject. Incest taboos prohibit the subject from 
desiring sexually the matemal figure and the subject 's rivalry with the patemal 
figure also motivates the subject with the wish that his mother were pure and 
chaste. On the other hand the subject' s sexual impulses drive him to seek a figure 
appropriately impure to provide an outlet for such impulses. In effect the subject 
wishes to violate the matemal figure ' s chastity and be her protector. ^ While some 
might find Freud's analyses simplistic or misogynistic, arguably it provides a 
usefiil key for decoding Carlino. Ideally Carlino would be able to find both his 
sexual outlets and nurturing affection in one source, one woman, as less severely 
neurotic individuals manage to do. Yet he is never able to reconcile the two 
extreme personae, and thus consistently insists on the dual volatile nature of 
Pisana. 

The orphan who grew up in the absence of a mother was not ignorant of the 
nature of familial relationships, for like most marginai figures he was ali the 
more keen an observer. More than most people he felt the need to find a mother 
substitute. For that reason when he was capable of marrying Pisana he felt no 
interest, but rather when she was betrothed to S. E. Navagero, a man old enough 
to provide a patemal rivai to Carlino 's affections, he "feels ali the stars of the 
firmament collapse on his head." It is a clear moment of Epiphany in his 
affections for Pisana. 

Confesso che l'amore della libertà, l'ambizione e tutti gli altri grilli, ficcatimi 
in corpo dalla generosità della stessa mia indole e dai raggiri di mio padre, 



NAPOLEON AND OTHER PIMPS IN LE CONFESSIONI D'UN ITALIANO 



fuggirono via, come cani scottati da un rovescio d'acqua bollente. La Pisana 
mi rimase in mente sola e regina; mi pentii, mi compunsi, mi disperai di averla 
trascurata per tutto quel tempo, e m'accorsi che io era troppo debole o viziato 
per trovare la felicità nelle grandi astrazioni. (Nievo 459). 

Carlino had ampie waming from Pisana 's mother that she was an eligible bride, 
and had on more than one occasion sought to interest him in marriage. The 
transformation in Carlino 's affections is instantaneous when she is no longer 
eligible, confirming the applicability of the Freudian hypothesis. 

Many commentator has remarked that in many respects Carlino fails to ever 
mature, and from a psychoanalytic perspective it is true that he never overcomes 
his neuroses with respect to Pisana. Why is it that throughout the novel Carlino 
describes Pisana, from her very infancy, with regret towards her sensuality, her 
flirtatiousness and her independent character that refiises to be tempered or 
disciplined? He himself admits that his reflections on Pisana 's youthful 
inclinations and moral character is greater than is "alla comune dei moralisti" 
(Nievo 53). If one can forgive the excesses of youth, what exactly are the grounds 
for accusing her of a delinquent career that was lamentably prepared for by an 
improperly supervised youth, and moves him to never tire of the maxim "bisogna 
coglierli giovani." The fact is that for ali Carlino's jealousy and suffering during 
his adolescence with Pisana, his anxieties about her character amounted to 
naught. 

La domanda è dilicata; ma dilicatissimo è l'obbligo di rispondere. Come potete 
credere, una piena malleveria io non vorrei faria per nessuno; ma in quanto alla 
Pisana io credo fermamente che suo marito l'ebbe se non casta certo vergine 
sposa, e tale la lasciò per la necessaria ritenutezza dell'età canuta. Sia stato 
merito suo o della precoce malizia che la illuminava, ci sia entrata la fortuna 
o la Provvidenza, il fatto sta che per le mie ottime ragioni io credo cosi. 

(Nievo 534-35) 

To be less delicate and much more frank than our narrator. Carlino had very good 
reason to believe that Pisana was a virgin when she married S. E. Navagero as 
she later lost her purity when she lived alone with him in his father's house. If 
anyone is to blame for her alleged corruption, and her juvenile excesses were the 
only flimsy evidence for such corruption, it would be Carlino himself, her first 
lover. The fact that she managed to remain pure until her relationship with 
Carlino does much to absolve her from any accusations: unless there is some 
other item nagging at Carlino. 

The real dilemma, and the problem which provides the origin for Carlino's 
narrative, is not what Pisana' s character as a child may have been; rather the 



CARTE ITALIANE 



narrator's anxiety responds to her transgressions as an adult. Carlino depicts 
Pisana's career as an ever more precipitous flirtation, progressing from tea 
parties as a five year old, to crushes on Giulio del Ponte and Lucilio as an 
adolescent, and to her brief affair with Ettore Carafa, Carlino's commanding 
officer in the Cisalpine army. Yet Pisana's loyalty to Carlino often proved equal 
if not greater than his own to her, and that might be the definition of the problem 
at the core of Altoviti's narrative. Folco Portinari and other critics give little 
attention to Carlino's episode in London, where he has been exiled for his part 
in the uprisings of 1820. Suffering from cataracts acquired during his 
imprisonment in Naples, his death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment 
and forced labor and then, again due to the intercession of Pisana and the 
Principessa Santacroce, he is freed into exile. Completely dependent on Pisana 
who has followed him to London to care for his health, he is forced to live off what 
she can earn for them in London due to his debilitated condition. Pisana sets 
about the formidable task of leaming English and then proposes to teach Italian 
as a means of supporting them both. Alas Carlino writes of the high cost of living 
in London, where both food and rent cost them dearly; this is the center of the 
industrialized world at that time. Pisana is not able to make ends meet. In her 
indefatigable search to provide for both, her health worsens, and Carlino, 
completely helpless, feels that she is slighting him in her comportment towards 
him. Their on-again, off-again relationship as lovers had ceased with his 
marriage (at her request) and he could not even experience that solace in their 
suffering together. 

Thus it is much worse in London than the siege of Genova. Even though 
in that episode of their relationship the economie conditions were much more 
extreme, when it was Pisana whose health suffered. Carlino was able to provide 
for her alimentary needs. It is interesting to compare that in those circumstances 
Carlino contrived to obtain a cat to make soup for her through the help of their 
common friend Alessandro, valiant colonel and erstwhile miller's son. In this 
comic episode Alessandro had a landlady that was quite enamored of him, and 
by luring her with sexual advances he is able to steal her cat for Carlino. In the 
most extreme of economie conditions one is constrained to exploit sexual taboos 
for material needs, but in this case our narrator is completely unabashed. 

Yet another case of economie extremity forces Carlino to avail himself again 
of the resources of Alessandro 's landlady, in a manner of speaking, this time in 
Milan after he had resigned his post with the govemment of the French 
occupation. This time the exploitation of sex for economie purposes is done 
directly by Carlino, whose amicable relationship as the majordomo of the 
Countess Migliana is greater than professional motives require. 



NAPOLEON AND OTHER PIMPS IN LE CONFESSIONI D'UN ITALIANO 



Ma dopo cinque e sei giorni cominciai ad accorgermi che la Pisana non poteva 
avere tutto il torto ad ingelosire della mia signora padrona. Costei usava verso 
di me in una tal maniera che o io era un gran gonzo o m'invitava a confidenze 
che non entrano di regola nei diritti d'un maggiordomo. Cosa volete? Peccai. 

(Nievo 703) 

Carlino is rather more ashamed of this part of his career when he finds out that 
Migliana is a vvoman who has brushed his life before, a reactionary opportunistic 
agent who consorted with the most unsavory characters. These digressions serve 
to contrast the doublé standard by which Carlino measures his loyalty against 
Pisana's. 

In London Pisana is absent from their apartment for long intervals seeking 
to eam what little money might make a difference in their living conditions, and 
Carlino has grave misgivings as to her activities of which she reveals nothing. 
Certainly she has been unable to fmd students in Italian (a sad commentaiy on 
the lot of teachers, and especially in this profession) but she assures Carlino that 
she is hiding nothing from him in her absences. Nonetheless he notes the 
exhaustion with which she retums from these absences, and becomes seriously 
alarmed when her health deteriorates enormously. After her first bout with 
illness and her apparent recovery she insists on again retuming to her efiforts to 
provide for the two of them, and it is then that she meets Doctor Lucilio on the 
streets of London. Their old friend who has become a prosperous doctor in 
London immediately provides for them, and after beginning the cure of Carlino's 
sight and bringing Carlino's family from Venice, rebukes Carlino for his 
coldness with respect to Pisana. Carlino felt slighted by the manner in which she 
had taken care of him, but Lucilio tells him in a heated exchange that he cannot 
know at what extremes she had suffered to nourish him. 

-Tacete, Carlo; ognuna delle vostre parole è un sacrilegio. 

-Una verità, volevate dire. 

-Un sacrilegio, vi ripeto. Sapete cosa faceva per voi la Pisana quand'io l'ho 

incontrata pallida estenuata cenciosa per le vie di Londra? 

-Si . . . orbene? . . . 

-Tendeva la mano ai passeggieri! . . . Ella accattava, Carlo, vi accattava la vita! 

-Cielo! no, non è vero! ... È impossibile! 

-Tanto impossibile che io stesso le porgeva non so quale moneta, quando. . . . 

Oh ma vi posso descrivere quanto provai nel ravvisarla? . . . Come dirvi il suo 

smarrimento ed il mio? 

-Basta, basta! per carità, Lucilio; la mente si perde, e vengo meno di dolore 

volgendomi a guardare dove siamo passati! (Nievo 780-81) 

It is significant that Carlino has been blind during the course of his life, and it 



CARTE ITALIANE 



is too painful for him to look back on where he and his life companions have 
passed. Contemplation will reveal that this is the action of the whole novel. 
While the histrionics of this exchange between Lucilio and Carlino are not 
atypical of Nievo, and it is lamentable that a Venetian noblewoman should beg 
for her living, the excess of Carlino's reaction indicates an omission of sorts. It 
requires no great suspension of disbelief to imagine exactly how Pisana begged 
for her living, nor must we believe that at some forty years of age illness caused 
by malnutrition and melancholy took her from this world, as the narrator would 
lead US to think. It is interesting to speculate where in the text the omission lies, 
whether it is Carlino who alters the facts of the story or whether Lucilio edits the 
tale as he does not wish to admit that he was on the verge of hiring Pisana for 
her services before he recognized her. 

After her grievous death by venereal disease Carlino retums to Venice and 
establishes Jiimself as a successfiJ businessman, for the first time in his life 
providing for his economie success. Yet the evident trauma of his life in London 
leads him to some repression. When Raimondo Venchieredo begins some 
unpleasant gossip in the cafés Carlino is forced to challenge him to a duel where 
he emerges vindicated. But what provokes Carlino so much? 

-Sono tanto vangelo! -ripigliò calorosamente Raimondo. 
-E già v'immaginerete qual era il mestiero da cui la Pisana ritraeva i suoi 
guadagni. . . . Una donzella veneziana non ne sa molti, me lo consentirete. Or 
dunque bisogna fare di necessità virtù. ... Ad onta de' suoi quarant'anni l'era 
così bella così fresca, che v; lo giuro io, molti anche non inglesi sarebbero 
rimasti accalappiati. . . . L'amico Carlino poi sapeva tutto e pappava in pace. 
. . . Eh, che ne dite? eh! che buon stomaco! . . . Peraltro, lo ripeto, bisogna 
fare di necessità virtù! . . . (Nievo 820) 

Carlino insists on describing Raimondo's talk as pure calumny, but it seems 
much closer to the truth than his own account. His aggrieved outrage also goes 
a long way towards explaining his characterization of Pisana throughout the 
narrative. It is for this reason that one must believe that our narrator was 
traumatized by her prostitution in London, and was subsequently wracked by 
guilt and remorse. From his view he could be considered an accomplice in her 
own destruction, or the cause of it, and in part he needs to shift responsibility from 
his relationship with her to their historical condition, such transference having 
the additional benefit of partially absolving her as well. His relationship with 
Pisana, the one tnie love of his life in spite of everything, is so centrai to his 
confessions that he needs to absolve himself, and imply that Pisana's degeneracy 
was innately motivated by her own personal defect bom of a promiscuous 
childhood. In Carlino's mind she is so tainted by the actions to which she was 



NAPOLEON AND OTHER PIMPS IN LE CONFESSIONI D'UN ITALIANO 



forced by life's extreme conditions that he must find some meaning, some 
overarching cause linking the actions of their maturity with their youth. It is not 
enough for him that in extreme conditions people could be forced to actions 
which they wouldn't otherwise consider. Thus it is this need to compensate for 
Pisana 's actions in London that creates the centrai theme of the novel and 
motivates the moralizing tone and theme that weaves throughout the texl. To 
reduce Fredric Jameson's ideas of the politicai unconscious to a smaller scale, 
Carlino's text responds to a question that can never be directly posed, i.e. what 
could have been done to prevent Pisana's degeneracy. 

But to fiilly understand how the doublé helixes of Carlino's life intersect, the 
personal relationship with Pisana and the public career of a patriot, we must see 
how the answer of the text to the question posed by Pisana's death is also the 
answer to the parallel question of history . History in Le confessioni is not merely 
a charming romantic backdrop to the torrid passions of a boy from the Veneto. 
History is the question to which the text responds in the strictest Jamesonian 
sense, and it is a parallel question simultaneous with that of Carlino and Pisana's 
love. To recognize this we must remember that Pisana is not the only woman to 
suffer a tragic death in the novel. Like most representatives of the confession 
genre, the life of the long lived protagonist must read like a long war epitaph, a 
roll cali of the multitude of characters who have died during its course. Pisana 
is representative of a melodramatic family tree in which the women have tragic 
fates, and it is with specific remorse that Carlino remembers the fate of Pisana's 
grandmother, the Contessa. 

In Carlino's feudal youth, the Contessa was a very real relic and symbol of 
the declining politicai order, having once been with her husband a member of 
Louis XIV's court. In heavy symbolism her death is the result of the revolution 
which toppled the French order she had once participated in. It occurs when 
Carlino had gone to Portogruaro to seek the aid of Venetian troops to defend the 
castle of Fratta from the oncoming Napoleonic troops in the year 1796. Being 
sidetracked by a bread riot in town he retums later than he should have in the 
evening, to find the castle and its environs already thoroughly sacked. He races 
imo the castle, totally deserted of its inhabitants, and fears for the condition of 
the Contessa, a frail woman of a hundred years. He finds her conscious in her 
dying state, badly beaten and abused by the French soldiers in the worst and most 
degrading manner, as she exclaims the indignity of her death and bitter 
renunciation of the faith that had sustained her "finora." 

Carlino was at this point a young revolutionary idealist, and her renunciation 
of her religious faith is not such a severe blow to his own, but rather to his politicai 
faith. To prove that there is a politicai justice, if not a divine one, he seeks redress 
to the almost divine authority of the French commander, Napoleone Buonaparte. 



10 CARTE ITALIANE 



He is in efifect able to obtain a personal audience with the young Napoleone, but 
not the trial of the soldiers at fault. If naturai modesty and charity were to incline 
US to dismiss the possibility that the Contessa was not the victim of rape at 100 
years of age, we cannot have any doubts when Carlino tells Napoleone that "le 
cose . . . sono della massima importanza e della maggior delicatezza" (Nievo 
413). Altoviti is the victim of a snow job: Napoleone rails on about the 
provocation provided by the Venetian authorities, and how whatever indignity 
a poor woman might have sufFered must be understood as occurring in the 
context of a higher cause. Essentially Napoleone is not interested in weakening 
the morale of his troops in the pursuit of discipline. Carlino accepts Napoleone's 
snow job for the glory of his politicai faith, in much the same way that Lucia 
would accept Fra Cristoforo's doctrine of Providence. 

Carlino's Bildungsroman consists of his subsequent disillusionment with 
Napoleone and the ideology that liberty could ever be provided by an extemal 
force. One of the many great traumas of Altoviti 's life is the Treaty of 
Campoformio, where Napoleone traded Venice to the Austrians in return for the 
secure possession of the Low Countries. Not only was this demeaning to Carlino 
as a Venetian and an Italian, to have his fate decided arbitrarily by an outsider, 
but especially given ali the great efiforts that Carlino and his coconspirators had 
made to introduce the French troops into Venice peacefiilly in the name of 
Liberty. Such Liberty had proven to be the gateway from one servitude to 
another, and his sense of regret and shame were only heightened by his lack of 
activity during the cruciai month that he remained secluded with Pisana in his 
father's house in Venice during the transition from the one govemment to the 
other. When Carlino is fmally set on the Via Maestra by the pursuit of the 
Austrian secret police, his final glimpse of Venice on the boat leading him into 
exile echoes and even parodies Manzoni 's "Addio ai Monti." 

O Venezia, o madre antica di sapienza e di libertà! Ben lo spirito tuo era allora 
più sparuto e più nebbioso dell'aspetto! Egli svaniva oggimai in quella cieca 
oscurità del passato che distrugge perfino le orme della vita; resta la speranza, 
il lungo sogno dei dormenti. 

Parricidio, parricidio! gridano ancora gli echi luttuosi del Palazzo Ducale. 
Potevate lasciarsi addormentare in pace la vostra madre che moriva, sulle 
bandiere di Lepanto e della Morea: invece la strappaste con nefanda audacia 
da quel letto venerabile, la metteste a giacere sul lastrico, le danzaste intomo 
ubbriachi e codardi, e porgeste ai suoi nemici il laccio per sofTocaria! 

(Nievo 522) 

This invocation to Venice reveals Carlino's personal guilt for his role in the 
transference of his patria to its traditional enemies the Austrians. Indeed one 



NAPOLEON AND OTHER PIMPS IN LE CONFESSIONI D'UN ITALIANO \\ 



could argue that Alleviti foolishly acxomplished more through his naiveté for the 
Austrian cause than his lifelong enemies Raimondo Venchieredo, Avvocato 
Ormenta, Padre Pendola, la Contessa Migliarla and many of the other Austrian 
agents he was to continuously face. 

But the essential message is not merely his personal regret and self- 
accusation, but rather the parallel between the end of the Venetian Republic and 
the death of Pisana 's grandmother. While prosopopea is traditional in patriotic 
literature, it approaches allegory when juxtaposed with the death of the Contessa. 
For like the Contessa di Fratta, "Venezia si destò raccapricciando dalla sua 
letargia, come quei moribondi che rinvengono la chiarezza della mente ali 'estremo 
momento dell'agonia" (Nievo 488). We must understand to whom Carlino 
refers when he says "those" moribunds, as the simile exactly describes the rape 
of the Countess, including the role of Napoleone personally. For the last part of 
Carlino 's invocation to Venice ends thus: 

D Direttorio e Buonaparte ci tradirono, è vero; ma a quel modo si lasciano 
tradire solamente i codardi. Buonaparte usò con Venezia come coll'amica che 
intende l'amore per servitù e bacia la mano di chi la percote. La trascurò in 
principio, la oltraggiò poi, godette in seguito di ingannarla, di sbeffeggiarla, da 
ultimo se la pwse sotto i piedi, la calpestò come una baldracca, e le disse 
schernendola: -Vatti, cerca un altro padrone! (Nievo 553, emphasis mine) 

Napoleone is thus twice figuratively through his troops the sexual abuser, once 
to the Contessa and a second time to Venice personified and feminized. Carlino 
holds himself responsible for both deaths, and this is the true cause for the 
nostalgia and regret that flavor the novel which has been the subject of debate 
by so many critics. 

The three deaths of Venice, Pisana and her grandmother intersect of 
necessity for they exist in synchrony in the mind of the narrator. As Barret J. 
Mandel explains in his essay "Full of Life Now"; 

[P]ersonal history is put forth in a certain light. The past may be an 
illusion, but the light of now is never an illusion. What it illuminates, it makes 
real. Now is the only source of light. Anything it shines upon may be clarified. 
The image of one's personal history in autobiography is simultaneously in time 
and timeless, like Yeat's golden nightingale or like the image of a boy with a 
horse in Lincoln Steffen's autobiography. (65) 

The memories of Carlino are of many great losses and fantastic failures, not ali 
of which can reasonably be said to be his responsibility. Carlino grew up into 
a world in which he had already sufiFered the loss of a mother and a father. He 
regained his father as an adult only to lose him a second time. As Stephen 



12 



CARTE ITALIANE 



Spender writes, the subject lives in a naked solitude, "the expression of such 
naked solitude may be just what he wishes to avoid" (117). The Confessioni are 
the expression of such a solitude, the exile in which Carlino lives and ali 
individuai possess as their birthright. This figurative exile is also the real story 
of his life. He cannot express it directly however, for the abyss is to great for him 
to stare in the face. 

Rather than believe that his life consists of arbitrary events, Carlino seeks 
to unily them under a single roof, the arch of his narrative. The keystone in the 
arch whose weight the novel supports, is historically the Treaty of Campoformio. 
Before and after the keystone in the arch are the death of the Contessa and Pisana. 
These personal crises are linked to Napoleone 's betrayal of Venice through the 
simile of sexual exploitation, through the words "la calpestò come una baldracca . " 
As readers we can thus understand the urgency in the narrator's voice, and the 
underlying motivation for the composition of his autobiography. While it may 
be argued that a text composed of such varied historical and personal events can 
only be arbitrarily composed around a single centrai point, we can only respond 
that the text demonstrates that it conceives of itself as such in its obsessive return 
to its "moral." This moral is his response to the issue that haunts Carlino in his 
old age, his response to the ghost of Pisana. For each time he retums to his moral 
it is a response to the return of his ghosts. At the end of the catharsis of his 
memoirs, Carlino concludes: 

O primo ed unico amore della mia vita, o mia Pisana, tu pensi ancora, tu 
palpiti, tu respiri in me e d'intorno a me! Io ti veggo quando tramonta il sole, 
vestita del tuo purpureo manto d'eroina, scomparir fra le fiamme dell'occidente, 
e una folgore di luce della tua fronte purificata lascia un lungo solco per l'aria 
quasi a disegnarmi il cammino. Ti intrawedo azzurina e compassionevole al 
raggio morente della luna; ti parlo come a donna viva e spirante nelle ore 
meridiane del giorno. Oh tu sei ancora con me, tu sarai sempre con me; perché 
la tua morte ebbe affatto la sembianza d'un sublime ridestarsi a vita più alta 
e serena. Sperammo ed amammo insieme; insieme dovremo trovarci là dove 
si raccolgono gli amori dell'umanità passata e le speranze della futura. Senza 
di te che sarei io mai? . . . Per te per te sola, o divina, il cuore dimentica ogni 
suo affano, e una dolce malinconia suscitata dalla speranza lo occupa soavemente. 
(Nievo 911) 

Eric Aversa 

Department ofitalian 

New York University 



NAPOLEON AND OTHER PIMPS IN LE CONFESSIONI D'UN ITALIANO 13 



Notes 

'Franco Moretti, // Romanzo di Formazione (Milano: Garzanti, 1986) 11: "Nelle 
'communità stabili' — nelle società di status, o 'tradizionali' — M'essere giovani' si 
realizza solo nella differenziazione biologica": cosi Karl Mannheim. D giovane, qui, è 
un non-ancora-adulto, niente di più. La sua gioventù ricalca passo passo quella dei suoi 
avi, e lo introduce ad un ruolo che gli preesiste e gli sopraviverà: non prevede, ancora 
Mannheim, una 'entelechia' sua propria. Non ha una cultura che la contraddistingua e 
la valorizzi in quanto tale. E, potremmo dire, una gioventù invisibile, e insignificante. 
Poi la società di status inizia a crollare — le campagne si svuotano e le città crescono, il 
mondo del lavoro cambia volto con straordinaria e incessante rapidità. La socializzazione 
incolore e quasi inavvertita cui metteva capo la 'vecchia' gioventù diviene sempre più 
improbabile: si trasforma in un problema, e rende problematica la gioventù stessa." In 
a way it is possible to look at these confessions as a Bildungsroman, for by the end of the 
text our narrator has arrived at a perspective where he can resolve the internai conflicts 
of his desires; by proposing a culture of perpetuai youth where the rigidity of maturity is 
opposed with the fervor of revolution. This is the appropriate mental space necessary for 
an industriai culture legitimized by a perpetuai race forward to some future ideal. 

^Sigmund Freud, Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, ed. Philip RiefT, Ist ed. 
(New York: Macmillan, 1963) 50-51: "1. The first of these conditions of love must be 
described as quite specific; wherever one discovers it one may look out for the presence 
of the other features belonging to the type. It may be termed the 'need for an injured third 
party'; its effect is that the person in question never chooses as an object of love a woman 
who is unattached, that is, a girl or an indejsendent woman, but only one in regard to whom 
another man has some right of possession, whether as husband, betrothed, or near friend. 
In some cases this condition is so f>eremptory that a given woman can be ignored or even 
treated with contempt so long as she belongs to no other man, but instantly becomes the 
object of feelings of love as soon as she comes into a relationship of the kind described 
with another man. 2. The second condition is perhaps a less Constant one, but it is no less 
remarkable. The type I am speaking of is only built up by the two conditions in 
combination; the first condition seems also to occur very frequently by itself The second 
condition is thus constituted: a virtuous and reputable woman never possesses the charm 
required to exalt her to an object of love, this attraction is exercised only by one who is 
more or less sexually discredited, whose loyalty and fidelity admit of some doubt. . . . By 
a rough characterization this condition could be called that of 'love for a harlot'." 



Works Cited 

Camerino, Marinella Colummi. Introduzione a Nievo. Rome: Laterza, 1991. 

Freud, Sigmund. Sexuality and the Psychology ofLove. Ed. Philip Rieff. Ist ed. New 

York: Macmillan, 1963. 
Jameson, Frederic. The Politicai Vnconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. 

Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981. 



14 



CARTE ITALIANE 



Lacan, Jacques. The Language o/the Self: The Function o/Language in Psychoanaìysis. 

Trans. Anthony Wilden. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins P, 1968. 
Mandel, Barret J. "Full of Life Now." Autobiography. Ed. James Olney. Princeton: 

Princeton UP, 1980. 49-72. 
Moretti, Franco. Il romanzo di formazione . Milan: Garzanti, 1986. 
Nievo, Ippolito. Le confessioni d'un italiano. Milan: Garzanti, 1984. 
Olney, James, ed. Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Criticai. Princeton: Princeton 

UP, 1980. 
Portinari, Folco. Le parabole del reale: Romanzi italiani dell'Ottocento. Turin: Einaudi, 

1976. 
Spender, Stephen. "Confessions and Autobiography." Autobiography. Ed. James 

Olney. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980. 115-22. 
White, Hayden. "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality." Criticai 

Inquiry 7.1 (Autumn 1980) . Rpt. in On narrative. Ed. W. J. T. Mitchell. Chicago: 

Uof Chicago P, 1981. 



Madness as Exclusìon and Self-Exclusion 
in Mano Tobino and Dino Campana 



During the orai presentation of this paper at UCLA on November 13, 1993, 
I showed a series of slides that I reproduced from Matteo Collura's Perdersi in 
Manicomio. The photographs in Collura's hook were shot one or two years ago 
in what remains of the mental hospital of Agrigento, Sicily. Psychiatric hospitals 
were abolished in Italy in 1 978. The people portrayed in the photographs — real 
people — are "left-overs"; they should not be there. As the title of the hook says, 
they got lost at some point along the way. It was not my intention to make a point 
with the slides, rather I simply utilized the disheartening images to convey some 
of the inefifable pain and loneliness of the dweller in the universe of madness and 
its holy locus, the asylum.' 

This paper was bom from an interest in the role played by madness in 
literature. My interest in madness, however, is not primarily with its private or 
interior aspect, but with madness as aheady processed, so to speak, by institutions, 
as inscribed in the circle of public acknowledgment. This leads almost naturally 
to the world of psychiatric hospitals. The two writers I consider here, Mario 
Tobino and Dino Campana, have in common that they both spent good parts of 
their lives in psychiatric hospitals — in different capacities, though. When 
Tobino started his medicai practice as a psychiatrist in the hospital of Ancona 
in 1939, Campana had been dead for seven years, having spent the last twelve 
years of his life as an inmate of the asylum of Castel Pulci. 

The contraposition of the public roles of these two writers, the first a director 
of a mental hospital for more than twenty years, the second an institutionalized 
madman, is at the core of this paper. Yet their contraposition falls apart as soon 
as one approaches these two men, not through their public personae, but through 
their work. Our expectations tend, surprisingly, to be overtumed. Not only are 
the two writers strikingly similar in their anguish, loneliness and human drama; 
but Tobino often displays the disorientation one would not expect of a mental 
health professional, and Campana the lucidity and self-awareness one would not 
expect of a mental patient. 



15 



16 



CARTE ITALIANE 



Deciding whether to attribute insanity to a person is necessarily problematic 
when it involves the deployment of categories completely different from those in 
operation at the time of that person's life. The intervention of hospitalization 
makes things even more tangled, because it augments the pretense of objectivity. 
It is important to notice that this can work both ways. There is a danger that 
mental health professional might be protected from a certain kind of scrutiny, 
while having been hospitalized even once constitutes a stigma that is hard to 
erase. 

Campana was institutionalized at least nine times (his biography has a 
number of grey areas).^ Four times he was put in jail, five in a mental hospital. 
Before 1968 in Italy admission to mental hospitals was only compulsory and it 
was recorded on the patient's documents, so that he or she lost his or her civil 
rights. According to the 1904 Giolitti Law, dangerousness was necessary for 
admission (Ùe Girolamo 22). Campana got himself into trouble quite frequently : 
he had outbursts of rage and acted violently and impulsively . But there is not one 
single record of his having hurt either himself or other people. The diagnosis 
of his first hospitalization at the age of 21 is "dementia praecox." The 
justification is "impulsività e vita errabonda," and excessive use of coffee; in fact, 
the literal translation of the medicai report is "cofifee-abuse" (Turchetta 67-8).' 
Vagrancy, coffee-abuse and fundamentally harmless outbursts of rage were the 
grounds of his other four admissions to mental institutions. Ali the imprisonments 
were brought about by either analogous causes or by lack of valid documents. 

Campana showed early in his life a strong tendency to wander away from 
home. In his native Marradi he felt constricted, especially since his oddity 
provoked the jests of his fellow villagers. The various incarcerations exacerbated 
his isolation, pushing Campana to longer and longer flights and more and more 
trouble. It is impossible to express a judgment now on whether his problems had 
a psychological or even an organic cause, but a series of social, politicai and 
economie circumstances (Campana came from a poor peasant family) certainly 
contributed to his public definition as insane. An interesting datum: the years 
between 1 874 and 1913 witness the Italian version of the phenomenon called by 
Foucault "the great intemment." In those years, the iimiate population increased 
from about 12,000 people to over 40,000, with a three-fold increase in 
hospitalization rate, from 5 to 15 for every ten thousand people (De Girolamo 
22). Campana fits right in. 

Campana wrote only one book, the Canti orfici. The book was published in 
1914, when the poet was 29. Four years after the publication of the Orfici 
Campana was committed to a mental insti tution for the last time and spent there, 
in silence, the rest of his life. According to Gianni Turchetta the relationship of 
madness and writing in Campana is one of mutuai exclusion. In defiance of ali 



MADNESS AS EXCLUSION AND SELF-EXCLUSION 17 



the myths built around the figure of the poet, Turchetta claims that Campana did 
not write the Orfici because or as crazy, but in spite of his spreading insanity. 
According to Turchetta, Campana 's poetry was the result of a relentless struggle 
with his insanity, as if the lucid reason that produced the lines of the Orfici had 
had to tear each of them from the hands of dehrious hallucinations. 

I would hke to view the Orfici not as the cairn before the storm, nor as a 
depiction of the "stili sane" Campana, nor as portrait of one particular phase of 
his life (the phase, in fact, that preceded his sliding imo madness). I would 
instead like to view the Orfici as containing the man in his entirety, engaged in 
the struggle to express his true self. From this perspective, in the Orfici we meet 
Campana both prior to and after his last and definitive intemment. The Orfici 
speak, not only for the stili active and public Campana, but also for the 
incarcerated and sileni one. 

I will focus bere on only a few of the themes of the Canti orfici. The themes 
I bave chosen are the ones that most strikingly bave a counterpart in Tobino. I 
will try to analyze them synoptically, in order to evidentiate the similarity of 
themes in their works, but especially the overtumed way in which they appear 
when juxtaposed. I believe that this overtuming points in a direction that 
frustrates the expectations of the reader. 1 will try to show the vacuity and 
inapplicability of the stereotypes associated with madness, on the one band, and 
sanity, on the other. The sanity we speak of in connection with Mario Tobino 
occupies a very privileged position in the collective imaginary, because the 
psychiatrist is precisely the person who cures insanity and is therefore immune 
from its manifestations. Once again, I want to make clear that I am not making 
any claim about the mental health of either Campana or Tobino. What I am 
interested in are the expectations, the perceptions, the myths derived from their 
biographies and especially from the roles they perform in the public rituals and 
representations of madness. 

From the perspective of this paper, there is not much to say about Tobino's 
life."* For a couple of decades, he was the director of a psychiatric hospital, the 
hospital of Maggiano, which is renamed in his most famous novels as Magliano. 
Before the reform of 1978, which abolished mental hospitals, the director of an 
asylum had absolute power. In some cases he was the only physician working 
in the hospital, while the rest of the personnel consisted of nurses also performing 
the funaion of security (Tobino 1 963, 10). He was in charge of everything: from 
admissions to discharges, from any form of medicai intervention to disciplinary 
decisions, from hygiene to management of the persoimel, etc. (Ferrano 198 and 
202). I will focus on Le libere donne di Magliano, first published in 1953. 

The key theme of the Canti orfici is the theme of travel. Travel, restless 
movement, is felt by the poet as an invincible compulsion. He has to be constantly 



18 



CARTE ITALIANE 



on the move, whether on foot, on a train, or in the hold of a ship. Travel is often 
associateci with the terminology of doom: "destino fuggitivo," "andar fatale," 
"l'eterno errante." Lucidly, Campana attributes to his mental disturbances this 
deep restlessness: later on in the book he is asked by a friend to leave with him. 
He declines. His madness, "la sua pazzia," is "tranquilla," and is leaving him 
alone (Campana 78). There is obviously something deeply painful, deeply tragic 
in ali this wandering. Campana describes it as "la malinconia dell'eterno 
errante." His travels do not lead anywhere. Every point of arrivai is necessarily 
also a point of departure. There is no god to be found anywhere: 

Sotto le stelle impassibili, sulla terra infinitamente deserta e misteriosa, dalla 
sua tenda l'uomo libero tendeva le braccia al cielo infinito non deturpato 
dall'ombra di Nessun Dio. (71) 

On the other hand, however, there is a deep element of joy and vibrating 
excitement in ali this travelling. The tragic and the intensely joyful do not 
contradict nor erase each other. They are two sides of the same coin. Many critics 
have noticed that the Orfici is not a bleak work. The word "dolce" appears so 
often that it cannot fail to be viewed as a leitmotif. 

The experience of the traveller is filli of intense, almost intoxicating 
sensations. Sensations of every kind, but especially visual sensations, described 
with the obsessive accuracy of the subject who feels the enormous responsibility 
tobe faithftil to himself, impregnate the book. Colors explode from its pages: not 
pastel colors or delicate hues, but primary colors in their purest vividness: red, 
white, blue, green, black. It is not chance that the art of painting plays such a 
part in the intertextuality of the Orfici. This intense experience of life — we 
cannot take it to be of anything else — is simultaneously a filli immersion in the 
realities of pain and joy. They are so inextricably linked that it is impossible to 
experience one without the other. And stili, except in some deeply melancholic 
passages, it is joy, beauty and sweetness that the Orfici communicates. The high 
point of this intoxicating Joy of living is expressed in the "meravigliosa . . . dolce 
e terribile," mysterious and pure union with nature achieved by the narrator of 
the "Pampa" (71). 

The boundless physical experience of the world of the poet of the Orfici 
contrasts with the immobility and seclusion of Tobino's psychiatrist. Although 
a free man, he lives in the hospital. His home must amount for quite a while to 
a single room, because it is only later on in Le libere donne di Magliano that he 
recounts excitedly the moment in which two rooms are given him. Most of the 
descriptions contained in the book concern what goes on inside the hospital. The 
landscape within which the narration expands is comprised of the wards filli of 
beds, the bare, terribly dismal cells of the dangerous and restless patients, and 



MADNESS AS EXCLUSION AND SELF-EXCLUSION 19 



of the enclosed lawns and courtyards in which they are sometimes allowed. The 
life of the doctor does not have much wider boundaries. It is mostly from his 
window that he observes the nature that surrounds the hospital. Also, he truly 
does not go anywhere. When he needs a bottle of wine from the inn on the other 
end of the hospital, he sends a meek and cooperative patient. His excursions seem 
to go no farther than the little room where the receptionist works. 

Although immersed in a wonderful, sensual, vibrating nature (waters run 
and wind blows everywhere), the poet of the Orfici is alone. The stars are hugely 
distant in the imperturbable stillness of the sky, the sun scorches the land but 
cannot warm the poet, the rivers flow on unregarding; the elements of nature 
experienced and represented so vividly by the poet are almost without exception 
inanimate, and do not care. Very seldom do we have descriptions of animals or 
living things, and when we do they are of disembodied or anonymous objects: 
wings of birds, fir trees in the distance, waving crops. It is as if, with the same 
intensity with which he looks for the intoxication ofbeauty and communion with 
nature, the poet-traveller seeks distance and isolation. It is in the nature of 
perpetuai movement and compulsive travel to escape connections and links — to 
keep one ' s distance. When represented in broad daylight, the world of the Orfici 
is a whirlwind of movement. Everything, including the poet through whose eyes 
we see everything, moves, and nothing connects with anything. Stillness 
belongs only to the night, and night is the time of solitude and rest, the time of 
the blackness of death. 

The humans that populate the Orfici are in great number prostitutes. The 
same distance that the poet seeks from nature, he seeks from human society. The 
whore is the symbol of non-rapport par excellence. Furthermore, she is oflen 
seen at a window, in a doorway, behind a curtain or walking under the arches, 
which emphasizes her distance. The relationship with a prostitute is typically 
undemanding: she gives without asking, and no continuity or commitment are 
required. In fact, the poet professes explicitly his unwillingness to commit 
himsetf to a romantic relationship, or his incapability of doing so. In "Dualismo 
(Lettera aperta a Manuelita Etchegarray)" he apologetically shouts: "io non 
pensavo, non pensavo a voi; io mai non ho pensato a voi" (57). The character 
of Manuelita might well be fictional, but what the poet is saying is clear: no 
woman, however much loved, can retain him, or his feelings. The poet betrays 
Manuelita because of his "infinita solitudine." Loneliness, that drives him away 
from everything and everybody, is his doom. Male friendship, on the other hand, 
does not really appear in the Orfici. Regolo, the friend the poet cannot go away 
with because in that moment "his madness is calm," is not a friend at ali: he is 
another lonely, compulsive traveller, equally doomed to solitary wandering. 
Bach sees his own image reflected in the other, their resemblance and communality 



20 



CARTE ITALIANE 



of destiny moves them. They hug tenderly. But their friendship cannot but be 
a friendship of good-byes. Lonely souls do not travei together. 

In his first person narration Tobino's psychiatrist sometimes menlions his 
friends. He says that now and then they come to visit. However, we never 
encoimter them. The only company of his we encounter and get to know are the 
mad people: Tono, who although scared by his irmer phantoms goes ali the way 
to the iim to get the doctor his wine; "la signora Alfonsa" and "la Leila," who, 
in their madness, are sane enough to fiinction as his servants and housekeepers; 
the door-keeper, to whose solitary little cubicle the doctor goes sometimes to have 
a chat and kill time. Then, of course, there are the madwomen of the wards, many 
of whom are crazily in love with him, expose themselves to him, cling, drooling, 
to the bars of their cells in the desperate attempt to touch him; or the other 
madwomen, those who adore him in silence, with a never expressed devotion 
that stili constitutes the only purpose of their lives. Like the whores of Campana, 
these women live at an imgappable distance. One cannot help feeling, in the 
sober lines of his narration, that the psychiatrist does not dislike their love, 
devotion andadmiration. Somehow, it gives him warmth and, why not, pleasure. 
But no relationship is possible between the mad population of the hospital and 
its doctor. No interaction other than force-feeding, mechanical or chemical 
sedation, and a few interviews can occur between the psychiatrist and the 
patients. And rightly so, of course. When la signora Alfonsa, after years of 
tranquility and dedication to her job as the doctor's servant, has a relapse and 
goes crazy, the doctor is genuinely upset. Stili, he locks her up; he pushes her 
back to the core of the worldtowhichshetrulybelongs. Hehasto. With la Leila 
the matter seems to be different. She remains stable and can continue to work 
for her doctor; but a sad passage reveals, without any possibility of doubt, the 
distance that separates them. It is Christmas. For many years the doctor has 
spent the holiday by himself, in his room. In a rather unusual way he lets us in 
on his feelings: 

Oggi è Natale, ero solo, non sapevo dove andare e non mi riusciva scacciare, 
mentre si avvicinava mezzogiorno, una sconsolazione che sempre più mi 
pungeva come volesse farmi arrivare al pianto. (100) 

But this time one of his colleagues invites him to his home. For la Leila it 
is a terrible blow: their reciprocai loneliness had also been their only company 
on Christmas Day. "Già tante feste avevamo passate tacitamente insieme," says 
the narrator; where "tacitamente" sadly erases the comfort and coziness of 
"insieme" (101). The doctor of Magliano is an irremediably lonely man. 

Enclosed in the space of the mental hospital, the insane person seems to 
embody exclusion in a privileged way. Self-excluded in the tragic isolation of 



MADNESS AS EXCLUSION AND SELF-EXCLUSION 21 



his or her illness, the mad person is excluded from society through incarceration. 
And yet the matter is not that simple. The psychiatrist of Magliano is equally 
self-excluded and isolated as the poet of the Orfici. Both Tobino and Campana, 
the former voluntarily while the latter involuntarily, end up sharing the destiny 
of incarceration. 

Giovanna Pompele 
Department ofFrench & Italian 
University of Southern California 



Notes 

'Thanks to Simon Evnine for his Constant presence and to Professor Joseph A. Dane, 
without whose encouragement and support this pap)er would never have been written. I 
would like to dedicate this paper to the memory of Giovanni Scolaro. 

^All biographical information on Campana is taken from Turchetta, 1990. 

'The medicai record defines Campana "dedito al cafiè del quale è avidissimo e ne 
fa un abuso eccezionalissimo" (Turchetta 68). 

■•I have taken ali biographical information on Tobino from Grillandi, 1975. 



Works Cited 

Campana, Dino. Opere e contributi. Voi. I. Florence: Vallecchi, 1973. 

Collura, Matteo. Perdersi in manicomio. Messina: Pungitojx), 1993. 

De Girolamo, Giovanni. "Italian Psychiatry and Reform Law: A Review of the 

International Literature." The International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 35 

(1989): 21-37. 
Ferrano, Paolo. Politica dei servizi sociali. Rome: La Nuova Italia Scientifica, 1988. 
Forato, Gianna and Carla Bisleri. L'operatore sociale. Rimini: Maggioli, 1992. 
Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization. London: Tavistock, 1965. 
Grillandi, Massimo. Invito alla lettura di Tobino. Milan: Mursia, 1975. 
Guarnieri, Patrizia. "The History of Psychiatry in Italy." History of Psychiatry, ii 

(1991):289-301. 
Jacobbi, Ruggero. Invito alla lettura di Campana. Milan: Mursia, 1976. 
Pariani, Carlo. Vita non romanzata di Dino Campana. Milan: Guanda, 1978. 
Tobino, Mario. Le libere donne di Magliano. Milan: Mondadori, 1963. 

. Per le antiche scale. Milan: Mondadori, 1972. 

. Gli ultimi giorni di Magliano. Milan: Mondadori, 1982. 

Turchetta, Gianni. Dino Campana. Biografìa di un poeta. Milan: Marcos y Marcos, 

1990. 



Amelia Rosselli and Exile in the Serie ospedaliera 



By now the historical, biographical notes of the life of poet Amelia Rosselli 
have been well rehearsed, and necessarily so. She was bom in Paris in 1 930, the 
direct result of her Italian father's exile as a Resistance leader. She was bereft 
of her father by an equally historical deed in the assassination of the Rosselli 
brothers, Carlo and Nello, Amelia' s father and uncle respectively. The family 
then moved to England, the homeland of Marion Cave, Amelia 's mother, and 
then to the United States. 

Just as she was denied a father and a fatherland, Rosselli likewise lacked a 
"mother tongue." Her poetic arsenal has been munitioned by the language of her 
birthplace, then a place of war, and next by that of her Anglo-American environs, 
locus of her haven-exile. In the bucolic space of Middlebury College, Amelia 
studied the language of her father which had also been spoken at home. It was 
not until 1946, however, that Rosselli reached Italian soil, a female Aeneas 
whose "homecoming" signaled a kind of self-exile ofby then purely psychological 
dimensions. These lifeevents, I maintain, become mirrored and thus regenerated 
in Rosselli's originally published volumes of poetry, each of which reflects a 
separate phase of life: Variazioni belliche as the war of her childhood; Serie 
ospedaliera as the exile of her adolescence; and Documento as the process of 
patriation as Rosselli entered into Italian life. 

Significantly, the mirror that Rosselli holds in the form of her poems is like 
that of a firn house, which twists and distorts the object before it. Some features 
are foreshortened, magically tucked under and made to disappear. Other 
features, actually innocuous and invisible intheir ordinariness, assume dominant 
and dominating proportions and thus significance. The resultant image bears 
very little resemblance to its originai, in spite of the object's solid, physical, 
whole — historical — presence before the mirror. Critic Lucia Re might agree for 
she asserts that 

an orphan, a refugee and an exile, intimately acquainted with the experience 
of illness, loss, pain and mouming, Amelia Rosselli is nevertheless not 
interested in retelling her story in verse. Yet her poems do teli a story of sorts: 
but it is a story of their own making. (140) 



22 



AMELIA ROSSELLI AND EXILE IN THE SERIE OSPEDAUERA 23 



While the exploration of ali three Rosselli volumes is beyond the scope of 
this paper, I would like to begin in the middle, so to speak: with the phase I read 
as exile and its corresponding volume of poetry. Serie ospedaliera. The bellicose 
tactics of strict meter and the most active language skirmishes of Variazioni 
belliche^ are in a state of withdrawal, which is not to say surrender, with Serie 
ospedaliera. The ftm house mirror-reflection that these poems are, present 
portraits of exile as manifested in different forms of exclusion: the obvious 
exclusion from country — physical exile; exclusion from power and reality — 
psychological exile; and exclusion from love — emotional exile. Succinctly 
summed up: solitude, suffering and death, the death of desire (Re 147). 

It is tempting to make something of the fact that the first poems of Serie 
ospedaliera date back to when Rosselli was thirty-three years old, the cliched 
"mezzo cammin di nostra vita." The possessive "nostra" finds an echo in 
Rosselli 's own commentary to La libellula: "infatti il poema ha come tema 
centrale la libertà, e il nostro, e mio, 'libellarla'" (31).^ Rosselli's use of the 
Italianized English "to libel it," where the pronoun refers to freedom, is 
consistent with her technique. With her poems she imposes sanctions of sorts 
on her sanctuary; in efifect, she libels, that is, defames in writing, the presumed 
liberty of her haven-exile in the United States. 

In the end, of course, the Dante analogy does not hold up, or even go very 
far, for many reasons, most particularly because the poet here is hardly destined 
for Paradise. Rather, every poem of the volume struggles to breathe through the 
battle-weary air of confusion, defeat, sadness and skepticism. Serie ospedaliera 
does not represent a moment of "tregua" after Variazioni belliche. In an 
interview with Giacinto Spagnoletti, Rosselli comments that "La 'serie' di 
poesia è 'ospedaliera' in quanto anche rassegnata a un ritornare criticamente sui 
propri passi, in quanto non più bellicosa nei confronti di sentimenti e intuizioni 
anche più rari o rarefatti" (Antologia 158). We can fiuther say that the volume's 
very title indicates a kind of exile from battle but significantly on account of 
injury. The "hospital-space" is a place of pain, "suffering and death," where 
wounds are probed for shrapnel and are then cauterized, where the prognosis is 
bleak: "Il cielo caprino . . . / quasi vigorosamente prometteva: ignoranza / e 
terracotta" (3: 1-3). 

Significantly, Rosselli does not inhabit this hospital space alone; her lyrics 
are peopled with a "you" ("tu") whose presence ostensibly establishes the 
substance of the "I" and simultaneously, as we shall see, often threatens the 
continued existence of the "I." This traditional poetic trope acquires a unique 
quality in Rosselli for "hers is an experimental (de)construction of the lyric voice 



24 



CARTE ITALIANE 



under the pressures of a language that is always dangerously divided against 
itself, and dose to destniction and madness." (Re 140) Thus, we can say that the 
"I" of Serie ospedaliera stands in exile with an abyss on either side of her: 
destruction as caused by war, madness induced through patriation. 

The remainder of this paper is a dose textual reading of poems 2 and 3. I 
begin the process of analysis with a fiindamental preoccupation of the exile: the 
questioning of her lot, her fate. Poems 2 and 3 each concem themselves with 
"sorte" and seem to ofifer the best hope of interpretation as a pair. The two poems 
are linked by common signifiers which just barely manage to snag their 
signifieds only in a cross-reading of the two. In preparation for the textual 
analysis, we would do well to keep in mind that 

[the] Serie ospedaliera relies on a vertical play of sound and semantic 
associations across the space of the text which undermines the possibility of 
reading sequentially from left to righi and from top to bottom. . . . The 
deforming logie of dreams, with its cardinal principles of displacement and 
condensation, seems to be the rhetorical model adopted by Rosselli in poems 
whose predominantly surrealistic imagery forecloses any naturalization. . . . 

(Re 148) 

Upon reading this "description" of Rosselli's technique, 1 tum to that 
quintessential text on dreams, Freud 's The Interpretation of Dreams. What 
Freud wrote in discussing condensation coincides perfectly with "fun-house 
mirror" efifect of Roselli's poetry which I previously mentioned. Here is Freud: 

It couid be seen that the elements which stand out as the principal components 
of the manifest content of the dream are far from playing the same part in the 
dream-thoughts. And, as a corollary, the converse of this assertion can be 
affirmed: what is clearly the essence of the dream-thoughts need not be 
represented in the dream at ali. . . . So that only a single element of the dream- 
thoughts seems to bave found its way into the dream-content, though that 
element was expanded to a disproportionate extent. (305) 

In other words, Rosselli never speaks of exile in these two poems, but the notion 
of exile resides in the deformed logie of her images of "sorte." 

Faced with such a challenge, 1 adopt a reasonable approach in isolating the 
common elements within the "grid" of the two poems: 

2: 1 Sollevamento di peso e particolarità della sorte. . . ; 

2:10-11 ...delusa di 

una cosi miserabile sorte. . . i 



AMELIA ROSSELLI AND EXILE IN THE SERIE OSPEDALIERA 25 



3: 1-2 D cielo caprino che curvava le suole 

quasi vigorosamente prometteva. . . ; 
3: 6-8 . . . presto rivedrai rivivere le lustre 

piantagioni e la raccolta, un provvisorio 

accecamento della sorte. . . ; 
3: 12-13 Presto 

rivedrai il cantare della sorte. . . . (emphasis mine) 

Every occurrence of "sorte" is preceded by a pertinent, contingent lag. The 
one exception is Rosselli 's piquant synonym "Il cielo caprino" which finds itself 
in a centrai position: the third of five occurrences and the first line of poem 3. 
This verse's centrai significance is fortified by the fact that it represents one of 
only two instances of logicai, neariy spoken syntax: "Il cielo caprino che curvava 
le suole / quasi vigorosamente prometteva: ignoranza / e terracotta." The poem 
might as well read, "The mischievous newspaper boy who kicked a stone along 
his route almost solemnly shouted: the latest gossip and money-saving coupons." 
The simple syntax and coherent message furthermore provide a straight 
passageway to cross over one poem from the other. 

I now return to verse one of poem 2 to see w hat it is about "fate" that the poem 
is calling attention to with "particolarità della sorte:" what is particular about 
this life and what details compose this fate? Poem 2 immediately unleashes a 
flood of disparate details that pile up against one each other and fight for meaning 
and sense: "doves peek" just as "my strengths are snatched up by your flying 
away like a / candy, liquified the vocation to a semantic revision of the quar- 
rels / and our birds." 

The reader's own struggle to find sense, to dream-interpret, leads to the 
Identification of the elements that are submitted to a condensation, a conflation 
of figures: colombelle X uccelli; le mie forze X la vocazione; sono prese X 
liquefatta. The specificit>' of doves, with their connotation of peacefiilness gives 
way to the more general "birds." Coupled with "beghe," quarrels, the 
transformation from doves to birds suggests a transformation from placid 
contentment to bickering and anxiety. It is likewise possible to condense "le mie 
forze" with "la vocazione;" hence, the poet's real strengths lie in her vocation. 
This is, presumably, her fate, destiny, as is implicit in the meaning of vocation. 
Yet these strengths are beyond the control of the "I" for they are snatched up, 
liquified. What remains then, after this condensation? The verses "Tuo volare 
via come una / caramella" and "una semantica revisione delle beghe." These 
terms of poem 2 seek out their meaning in corresponding tropes in poem 3. 

Firstly, "tuo volare via come una / caramella" finds an echo in poem 3 , verses 
10-11: "notte / di nuovo le caramelle una lavagna io." "Your flying away" leaves 



26 CARTE ITALIANE 



a darkness, it is night once again. The "lavagna" is a blackening and an erasure 
of the "I." The blackboard exists in a meaningfiil way only by virtue of being 
inscribed, written upon, and through the writing it is given a temporary 
significance, only to be wiped out, and left bare and meaningless. As the "I" of 
the poem is effaced, the poet too in her vocation experiences a blackening, and 
erasure. The persistent sense then is a process of abandonment, cancellation, of 
the "I" by the "you." But this is an abandonment that is like candy, sweet and 
craved, not nourishing and possibly harmful. Furthermore, the abandonment is 
enacted in hostility, for poem 3 fiirther clarifies: "ti scorro nelle tue dita 
misogene." The potential sensuality of "liquefatta" in poem 2 and "scorro" in 
poem 3 fall victim to the violence of the verse which has its psychological 
precedent in poem 1 : ". . . una crudeltà continua, un tuo dormire nascosto / dalle 
mie preghiere." 

A real sense of the isolation of the "I" is revealed in the concluding verses 
of the first stanza of poem 2. The bleak, hollow echo of "Nessuno" names the 
absent subject of the other syntactically logicai verse: "Nessuno dei soldati che 
veramente / intendeva risposarsi seppe dirmi /chi è che veramente marcia." This 
apparently meaningftil "sentence" implies a curious, unanswerable questioni 
why would soldiers remarry, and most especially within the Serie ospedaliera? 
Why would they be widowers rather than deceased, abandoning husbands of 
widows? Whatever the possible response, the direct question nevertheless 
remains, "chi è che veramente marcia?" Here, once again, Rosselli evokes an 
image of movement, and it again seems to be movement away, a distancing, in 
effect, an abandonment. Indeed, the abandonment of the "I" is stated baldly after 
the ellipsis of the first verse of the second stanza: 

. . . solitaria alle regioni didascaliche 
sorreggevo brigantella delusa di 
una cosi miserabile sorte, oh ... . 

The sad fate of the "I" lies in her solitude and loneliness: as Rosselli comments 
to Spagnoletti, "una vita sistematicamente privata, interiorizzata, privi di 
contatti" (Antologia 157). 

"Didactic regions" and the second occurrence of "sorte" winds back to the 
remaining verse: "una semantica revisione delle beghe." This line seems to state 
the underlying logie of the poems themselves. As we have begun to see, poem 
3 Works to effect a semantic revision of poem 2. This revision, then, is itself the 
quarrel, the trouble of the poet, whose power and authority to act within the 
didactic regions of her mind and within poetry are usurped by delusion, the result 
of abandonment, of exclusion, of exile. 



AMELIA ROSSELLI AND EXILE IN THE SERIE OSPEDALIERA 27 



The delusion is reiterated and thus reinforced within the framework of the 
second stanza of poem 3 : 

Credere momentaneamente, rivedersi, pubblicare 
pentatonica delusione, il ridere è sempre 
amaro; presto rivedrai rivivere le lustre 
piantagioni e la raccolta, un provvisorio 
accecamento della sorte. 

Willing herself to believe as long as is possible, the poet chooses the weightiest 
word to convey the duration of her belief by stretching out the syllables — mo- 
men-ta-ne-a-men-te. But then she stops short in the act of self-viewing, self- 
recognition. Ali that is possible, after ali, is the publication of a five-scaled 
delusion, once again reinforced this time by the pairing of iaughing and 
bittemess — "Il ridere è sempre amaro." And then, tantalizingly, the poet offers 
the hope of new light, new life, rebirth, new growth, new stability, which last only 
as long as her momentary belief "Ignorance and terracotta," after ali, for, 
revised, "presto rivedrai rivivere" transforms into "presto/rivedrai il cantare 
della sorte." We have already leamed that it is "una così miserabile sorte," which 
permits only a temporary diminution of its powers. 

The concluding lines of each poem bring about a rejoining of the "I" and the 
"you." After the abandonment, the poet's task is to revise and fine-tune her 
resurrected "tu," reincamated from images of flying to the land-bound rabbit, 
"coniglio tu / ed io insieme" (3: 13-14). With the "tu" recoupled, "ricoppiato," 
with the "I," the poet effects a semantic revision of "scoppio e tu non correre:" 
"coniglio tu / ed io insieme nelle sere della morte:" The machine guns beaten 
into piano keys as well bring about the obliteration of feelings, of the sensations 
of life. While the obvious image may be a negative one, we must recali our 
"hospital space." The cessation of feelings may be the deadening of pain, the 
internai quiet after the tumult of battle. The "metrò" figures the burrows of the 
rabbits, site of haven, exile from the extemal, and literal, outside world. 

The camphor denotes the sickroom of the evenings of death. But death of 
what? Death of desire: "'amourjet'aitué.'" Desire itselfisconfmed,exiled just 
as the poem's "I," for it exists only within the confmes of an "industriale amare," 
and inflames the "I" and "you" within a safe. In this strong-box curved red lips 
are transformed into brick which protects from contamination and simultaneously 
prohibits the balance of a healthy environment. 

The rippled mirror-glass of these two poems reflect the psychological 
response to being physically in a foreign place out of need for safety, but a place 
that effectively cuts emotional ties to everything familiar. It is the experience of 



28 



CARTE ITALIANE 



the sweet freedom that exists at the cost of an erasure of ali that formerly 
cx)mposed the personal identity. In just this one, intrcxiuctory analysis of two of 
the poems of Serie ospedaliera, then, it is possible to discem an artistic 
reworking of an historical event: Amelia Rosselli 's response to and attempted 
resolution of her haven-exile figured by the countries of England and the United 
States. 

Carmen Di Cinque 

Department ofitalian 

New York University 



SoDevunento di peso e paiticolahtà della sorte 

sbirciavano colombelle le mie forze sono 

prese dal tuo volare via come una 

caramella, liquefatta la vocazione ad 

una semantica revisione delle beghe 

ed uccelli nostri. Nessuno dei soldati che veramente 

intendeva risposarsi seppe dirmi 

chi è che veramente marcia. 

. . soUtana alle regioni didascaliche 
sorreggevo brigantella delusa di 
una cosi miserabile sorte, oh 
vedi io scoppio e tu non correre, la 
mitra del pianoforte rimuove 
sensaaoni, metro, canfora, rosse 
e curve labbra mattoni deDa cassaforte. 



The lifting of weight and particulars of fate 
doves were peeldng my strengths are 
snatched up by your flying away like a 
candy, liquified the vocation to 
a semantic revision of the quarreU 
andourbirds. None of the soldierswhotruly 
intended to remarry could teU me 
who it is that is truly marching. 

. . . solitary in the didactic regions 
1 used to rule little brigand deluded 
by a fate so miserable, oh 
you see 1 burst and you don't run, the 
machine gun of the piano removes 
sensations, subway, camphor, red 
and curved bps bricks of the safe. 1 5 



Po«in3 



D cielo caprino che curvava le suole 

quasi vigorosamente prometteva: ignoranza 

e terracotta. 

Credere momentaneamente, rivedersi, pubblicare 
pentatonica dehisione il ridere è sempre 
amaro, presto rivedrai rivivere le lustre 
piantagioni e la raccolta, un provvisorio 
accecamento della sorte 

Premi il tuo disingaggio nella notte 
rivedi i programmi, amour Je t 'al fui: notte 
di nuovo le caramelle una lavagna io 
ti scorro nelle tue dita misogene Presto 
rivedrai il cantare della sorte, coniglio tu 
ed io insieme nelle sere della morte 
confinata ad un industriale amare. 



The goatish heaven which kicked up its heels 
almost vigorously promised: ignorance 
and terracotta 

To believe momentarily, re-see yourselt publish 

pentatonic delusion laughter is always 

bitter, soon you will again see living again the lustrous 

plantabons and the harvest, a provisionai 

blindingoffate 

Press your disengagement in the night 

review the progiams, amour Je l 'ai lui: night 

again the candies a blackboard I 

flow in your misogynist fingers Soon 

you will see again the singing of fate, rabbit you 

and 1 together in the evenings of death 

confined to an industriai loving. 



Notes 



'See Nelson Moe, "At the Margins of Dominion: The Poetry of Amelia Rosselli,' 
particularly pp. 177-86 for a stimulating discussion of the strategies of this volume. 



AMELIA ROSSELLI AND EXILE IN THE SERIE OSPEDAUERA 29 



^All references to La libellula and poems from Serie ospedaliera are taken from the 
volume published by Studio Editoriale as part of their Piccola enciclopedia series, 
number 8. The poems will be referred to by number according to the order in which they 
appear in this volume and not in the origially published Serie ospedaliera (Mondadori, 
1969). 



Works Cited 

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation ofDreams. Ed. and trans. James Strachey. New 

York: Basic Books 
Moe, Nelson. "At the Margins of Dominion: The Poetry of Amelia Rosselli." Italica, 

69.2 (1992): 177-197. 
Re, Lucia. "Poetry and Madness." Shearsmen ofSorts: Italian Poetry Today 1975-1993. 

Italian Poetry Supplement of the Forum Italicum. 132-152. 
Rosselli, Amelia. Amelia Rosselli: Antologia poetica. Ed. Giacinto Spagnoletti. 

Interview with Giovanni Giudici. Milan: Garzanti, 1987. 
. La libellula. Milan: Studio Editoriale, 1985. 



Amelia Rosselli's Sleep (Sonno): 
Beyond the Double-Margin 



When the title for the present conference, "Exile and the Exile of Self," was 
presented to me, my first impulse was to entitle my own talk "Eggsalad and the 
Eggsalad of Self" Interestingly enough, when I spell-checked this document 
with my computer, the dictionary wanted me to replace the word "eggsalad" with 
the word "exile." Since "eggsalad" had no meaning for my computer, perhaps 
my title wouid have meaning for the Lacanian "exile" who crossing the desert 
carne across a tablet with such an epithet as my would-be title. Lacan writes: 

Suppose that in the desert you find a stone covered with hieroglyphics. You do 
not doubt for a moment that, behind them, there was a subject who wrote them. 
But it is an error to believe that each signifier is addressed to you — this is 
proved by the fact you cannot understand any of it. On the other band you defme 
them as signifiers, by the fact that you are sure that each of these signifiers is 
related to each of the others.' 

Unlike Tarzan who uncovers the ABC-primer his deceased parents had intended 
him to read, and deduces that the letters are insects crawling on the page, Lacan's 
desert-traveler is capable of identifying a process of signification.^ 

This recognition of the "precedence of the signifier" may perhaps he 
representedmetaphoricallybytheelusiveetymonof the word "exile." Philologists 
speculate that it derives from the Latin ex solum, "chased away from one's own 
soil." This possible etymology, however, reveals the modem poet's task of 
articulation: the lyric voice seeks to breach and transgress codes of linguistic 
competence. Poets wish to venture outside of tradition and glorify the "precedence 
of the signifier," or the signifier before a state of articulation. They attempt to 
grasp an enunciation before it reaches the stage of "secondary articulation." 

As my colleague, Carmen Di Cinque, has already illustrated, Amelia 
Rosselli is herself an exile of sorts. My talk today, however, deals with a more 
recent publication in which Rosselli not only breaches lyric tradition, but also 
breaches the geographic literary tradition of her home soil by writing in English. 

As Freud teaches, our lives are permeated with the desire to return to an 



30 



AMELIA ROSSELLI'S SLEEP (SONNO): BEYOND THE DOUBLE-MARGIN 31 



organic state, to return to the soil. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." The final 
release is, of course, death: Hamlet's "Undiscovered Country," where the 
economy of Western tradition has finally been eradicated, where ali codes and 
Systems of meaning have been deconstructed. Yet death is not to be embraced 
without some reservation, Hamlet wams: 

To die, to sleep — 
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub, 
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, 
When we have shuffled off this mortai coil. 
Must give US pause. {Hamlet mi. 64-68) 

Amelia Rosselli 's Sleep (Sonno) is a joumey into her "Undiscovered Country" 
in which the Italian poet revisits her linguistic formation and her "mistrust of 
language(s)," as Emmanuela Tandello has called it (364). 

The work is a series of poems in English composed by Rosselli between 1953 
and 1966: as a collection of poems it represents the (im)possibilities of 
interpretation and exegesis that occur when poetic language breaches the 
nonplused confines of the Western lyric tradition. Rosselli ' s langue or "linguistic 
competence" does so in an especially perplexing manner because it is based on 
a polyglot conception of language that opaquely moves in and out of English 
through paronomasia and calks of Italian words and graphemic representation 
of Italian language with English characters. It is perplexing and problematic, 
however, not in a pejorative sense; it is an experimentation that subverts 
normative codes of linguistic and lyric tradition. 

The nature or genesis of this subversion lies perhaps in the origin of 
Rosselli's (ab)normative linguistic formation. She was bom in Italy to an 
Italophone father and an Anglophone mother. At a young age her family moved 
to Paris where French was spoken at home.^ A breach was already present in the 
poet's linguistic formation: Italian was the language of the father, and the 
presence of the mother-tongue, English, was usurped by French. From France, 
after the assassination of her father, she moved with her mother and siblings to 
England, and then to the United States. During this period, 1940-1946, we can 
only assume that she spoke English in the home, and in America the poet herself 
afifirms that she had institutionalized schooling: "Feci gli studi ginnasiali e 
liceali sino a quindici anni, seguendo per ultimo dei corsi estivi in vista del mio 
ritomo in Italia, che avvenne nel Ì946'' (Antologia 151). It was upon her return 
to Italy, however, that the first shock to her linguistic identity would come about: 

A sedici anni, dunque, raggiunsi Firenze, e qui ci furono delle complicazioni. 
Gli studi che avevo fatto [negli Stati Uniti] non erano equiparabili, fu una 



32 CARTE ITALIANE 



grossa delusione per me. Volevano che studiassi con i tredicenni, io rifiutai. 

(Antologia 151) 

Indeed, it must have been tremendous for a sixteen-year-old to find that the 
scholastic institution of her native Italy would not recognize the experience of 
her early adolescent socialization. As a result she returned to London to continue 
her studies: "A Firenze vissi qualche mese, mi trasferii a Londra per riprendere 
gli studi, che non erano risultati validi in Italia" (Antologia 151). Her words, "ci 
furono molte complicazioni," seem to indicate that what once had been pure and 
simple, had in tum become complicated and diverse. Moreover, when she says, 
"io rifiutai. . . . |M|i trasferii a Londra per riprendere gli studi, che non erano 
risultati validi in Italia," she marks the first break from a tradition that had 
refiised to recognize her intellectual — or the begirmings of her intellectual — 
formation: she arrived in Florence — which is historically the linguistic center of 
the Italian lyric tradition — and was denied access to her (patemal) literary 
tradition when they insisted that she study with students younger than she. Her 
reaction was to return to London, center of the English literary tradition, to 
continue her studies. This identity crisis would later be even more deeply 
engraved in the poet when she returned to Italy at the age of eighteen to work, 
as Emmanuela Tandello writes: 

Amelia, like her two older brothers, was educated in America and then in 
England. Her first contact with Italy carne at the age of eighteen,^ where, as an 
officially "unskilled" young woman, she found employment working as a 
translator, perpetuating thus the by now permanent dimension of linguistic and 
cultural split(s) experienced from birth. (364) 

Where then in the hierarchies and gemes of literature — so dear to literary 
scholars and critics — must we place an Italian poet who writes and publishes in 
Italy a work composed in English? 

In Italy Rosselli has been anthologized by the academic institution (albeit 
dubiously) as the representative par excel lence of Italian women poets: Pier 
Vincenzo Mengaldo distinguished her in his Poeti italiani del Novecento as the 
voice of women poets in Italy (although she is the only woman writer allowed by 
him). Mengaldo writes in the preface to his anthology: 

Osando una formula, [perhaps aware of the ambivalence of what he is about to 
say] si potrebbe parlare di identificazione tendenzialmente assoluta della 
lingua poetica col registro del privato, del vissuto-quotidiano personale: 
equazione realizzata per la prima volta coi risultati finora poeticamente più 
efficaci, io credo, dalla Rosselli, un'iniziale atipica che anche per questo oggi 
si rivela un'anticipatrice. (Ixi) 



AMELIA ROSSELLI'S SLEEP (SONNO): BEYOND THE DOUBLE-MARGIN 33 



Bordering on irony, he praises Rosselli while at the same time equating her 
poetry to an equation or formula "del privato." 

And even though he anthologizes her, he insists on emarginating her work 
(and thus by extension he emarginates ali Italian women poets for which he has 
chosen Rosselli as sole representative) by calling her an "experiential" rather 
than "experimental" writer; 

. . . [L]' aggressione disgregatrice perpetrata da [i suoi versi] pochissimo o nulla 
ha in comune con lo sperimentalismo guidato e tecnologico della neo- 
avanguardia. . . , ed esattamente oppxjsto ne è l'esito: una scrittura, o piuttosto 
una scrittura-parlata, intensamente informale, in cui per la prima volta si 
realizza quella spinta alla riduzione assoluta della lingua della poesia a lingua 
del privato. . . . (Mengaldo 994-95) 

Lucia Re contested Mengaldo 's argument in her article, "Poetry and 
Madness"', and it is not my purpose to discuss Rosselli's Italian poetry here, as 
my colleague has already done so. It is interesting to note, however, that 
Mengaldo mentions the work, Sleep, and the English writings of the poet in his 
introduction to the selection of her work (993), and he maintains that "La 
suggestiva e spesso potente poesia della Rosselli era e resta un fenomeno in 
sostanza unico nel panorama letterario italiano, legandosi piuttosto ad altre 
tradizioni, l'anglosassone ... e la surrealista francese" (993-94). It is indeed 
contradictory that he cali her work "unico nel panorama italiano" while he 
singles her out at the same time as the voice of an enti re generation of women 
fXDets. It's almost like the overly ambitious first-year college student who 
highlights the first line of every paragraph in the text book: by underlining the 
topic sentence, the student consequently erases the Information itself 

The inherent flaw of his paradoxical categorization of Rosselli reveals that: 
(1) by denying her a place among the neo-avanguardia poets, he — like many 
other historians and critics of the avant-garde have done with women writers — 
emarginates women from the ali-male, avant-garde club since he calls Rosselli 
the best of the women writers; and (2) he doubly emarginates her work when he 
says that her work belongs to other traditions which lie outside of Italian literary 
heritage, i.e. the Anglo-Saxon and French Surrealist traditions. Mengaldo 
seems to subscribe to the notion that there is a tradition of the avant-garde in Italy 
that must be recognized in order to join that club, and nevertheless the presence 
of a male signature is necessary to open the doors to that club. 

The polyglot aspect and intemational influences present in her work are the 
very elements of her writing that empower and enrich her poetry (even though 
critics like Mengaldo write them off as experiential and marginai). Her work is 



34 CARTE ITALIANE 



inherently outside of tradition (be it venerable, worthy or not). Moving beyond 
the "doublé margin" — as Susan Suleiman has called it (11-32) — of literary 
criticism and definitions of literature and the avant-garde, Rosselli experiments 
with the boundaries of language and lyricism. Moreover, the choice of English, 
her mother-tongue, represents a subversion of the Italian tradition to which 
Rosselli cannot help but belong. This perhaps is the strongest and most striking 
force of her writing: it denies categorization while creating an allegory of 
plurilinguismo, so coveted in the Italian tradition. As Susan Suleiman writes (of 
French Surrealist women writers) in her book, Subversive Intent, these should 
be considered positive aspects that found the basis of experi mentation in such a 
work: 

In a system in which the marginai, the avant-garde, the subversive, ali that 
disturbs and "undoes the whole" is endowed with positive value, a woman 
artist who can identify those concepts with her own practice and metaphorically 
with her own femininity can find them a source of strength and self-legitimation. 

(17) 

Rosselli 's "practice" of writing in English marks an exaltation of her femininity, 
her mother-tongue, which is the basis of her work. 

It is as if Rosselli foresaw the way she would be emarginated by the Italian 
academic institution when she wrote the poem which she placed at the beginning 
of her English canzoniere, What woke those tender heavyfat hands: 

What woke those tender heavy fat hands 

said the executioner as the hatchet fell 

down upon their bodily stripped souls 

fermenting in the dust. You are a stranger here 

and have no place among us. We would have you off our list 

of potent able men 

were it not that you've never belonged to it. Smeli 

the cool sweet fragrance of the incense bumt, in honour 

of some secret soul gone off to enjoy an hour's agony 

with our saintly Maker. Pray be away 

sang the hatchet as it cut slittingly 

purpled with blood. The earth is made nearly 

round, and fuel is bumt every day of our lives. 

While the first period appears fragmented due to the absence of punctuation 
in the indirect discourse (this [non]use of punctuation makes me think of 
Gertrude Stein), the second period speaks loud and clear to the poet telling her 
that not only will she not be included on the "list," but she never "belonged to 



AMELIA ROSSELLI'S SLEEP (SONNO): BEYOND THE DOUBLE-MARGIN 35 



it." The "hatchet" sings as it evokes Christianity ("the incense bumt" and "our 
saintly Maker") and castrates the object, slicing it away from the saintly tradition 
of which Mengaldo speaks. In What woke those tender heavyfat hands, Rosselli 
parodies Western traditions of religion, and patriarchal hierarchy (and possibly 
psychoanalysis, i.e. the notion of castration), and along side the fragments of 
these codes which appear in the text, the allegory of the executioner, with his 
singing hatchet, looms above her. 

The executioner and the hatchet are eager to emarginate Rosselli because 
her linguistic flexibility denies categorization and challenges conventions and 
normative codes of language. But Rosselli 's use of language per se represents 
most importantly a recovery in her work of a pre-social organization, or pre- 
dipal state, a breach of normative processes of articulated linguistic signifìcation. 
As Emmanuela Tandello (who is the translator of Sleep) observes pointing to 
Rosselli 's Italianpoetry in her article, "Doing the Splits: Language(s) in Amelia 
Rosselli 'sPoetry": 

the proverbiai mistrust for language revealed by her Italian poetry is in fact a 
mistrust for language tout court, deriving from her personal experience of 
language(s) as (a) system(s) of communication, and the glaring absence of a 
clearly identifiable "mother" tongue; and, finally, that this foreignness is the 
ideal inhabitable space of an exiled identity. (364) 

"Mistrust of language" is indeed a mistrust of normative codes of communication, 
and the act of writing in English reflects, moreover, a mistrust of the "father" 
tongue: in Sleep Rosselli retums to the mother-tongue that was denied her until 
the death of her father and her family's self-imposed exile from Continental 
Europe.* 

In Sleep, however, she recuperates the language of her father in graphemic 
representations of Italian words. The representation of Italian in Sleep introduces 
signifiers into the text that appear at first glance to be nonsensical, yet in reality 
are the forces that undermine what Julia Kristeva has called the "symbolic" — 
or the articulated state of signifìcation — and, hence, recuperate the "semiotic" — 
or the pre-articulation (94). 

An example of the "precedence of the signifier" or the recuperation of the 
semiotic may be found in the line: 

and run out rapid against a fence of spine. (Sleep 40) 

The signifier, "spine," on a paradigmatic axis (as opposed to a syntagmatic axis), 
in an English code of signification, recalls "spine" as in "spinai cord." But on 
the following page where the Italian translation in presented (the English is on 



36 



CARTE ITALIANE 



the even pages and the Italian on the odd pages; thus the originai and translated 
texts are revealed simultaneously), the reader finds the same graphemic 
representation, "spine," which in Itahan means "thoms": 

e correre fuori rapida contro una cinta di spine. 

Depending on the hnguistic competence of the reader, the exegesis of the text 
ofiFers multiple possibilities. This is indeed the power of the text, and it is along 
this axis that it passes in and out of symbolic signification to and from the 
semiotic. Along this axis the scope and dimension of the work is truly revealed: 
as the reader brings more and more linguistic competence to the reproduction of 
the text, more and more meanings are generated. The anomaly itself, the breach 
of the linguistic code, opens up seemingly limitless readings of the text. 

An incredibly problematic case of this sort of linguistic anomaly in symbolic 
significatidn may be found in the line: 

o the shallops put out to sea and we remain ashore. (Sleep 34) 

In the translator's note of the book, Tandello (who translated the work under 
Rosselli 's guidance (Caporali 8)) writes, "l'italiano funziona . . . visibilmente, 
emergendo attraverso il controllato poliglottismo giocoso dei cosidetti lapsus — 
"shallop" per scialuppa, "shind," scindere, "fall drit into the mire," cadere dritta 
nel fango" (Sleep 216). Whereas "shind" and "drit" are not to be found in the 
English dictionary, the word "shallop," although rare, corresponds in meaning 
to the Italian "scialuppa": "dinghy."^ Perhaps this is merely Tandello's 
oversight, but, editors and translators aside, the power of the text — as is — lies 
in the fact that it calls upon the reader' s linguistic competence to recognize its 
internai process of signifìcation. The "mistrust of language" is transferred thus 
from the subject to the reader, and hence the reader may consciously become 
subject. The obvious parameters of this phenomenon begin with the reader' s 
competence in Italian and English, but they become infìnitely complicated if you 
consider thepossibility ofa Italian/Englishtranslator-reader, ora Shakespearean 
scholar-reader, or a bilingual native speaker-reader. The reader is Lacan 's 
desert-traveler: a wayfarer in the wildemess of signifìcation, the reader believes 
erroneously that the text speaks to her/him when in fact the purely graphemic 
representation speaks only to itself. 

Ever since Pier Paolo Pasolini published his "Notizia su Amelia Rosselli" 
inll Menabò, scholars and critics bave inappropriately called this experimentation 
in linguistic competence "misspellings" or "lapsus."* These anomalies of 
Rosselli 's poetry are not mistakes or errors, and her work does not belong under 
the rubric "atypical" or "curious." Rosselli 's use of language is a formai and 



AMELIA ROSSELLI'S SLEEP (SONNO): BEYOND THE DOUBLE-MARGIN 37 



technical experimentation with language. The title of the collection of poems, 
Sleep, is ironie in this sense: for years her poetry has been called "informai," 
"playfìil" and full of lapsus into the unconscious; if sleep is truly where the 
unconscious reigns, the title parodies those critics and scholars who have wanted 
to categorize Rosselli 's work as full of slips into the unconscious. Sleep does not 
slip into the unconscious: it is a stylistic representation of the precedence of the 
signifier in the human experience. The work doesn't assume that it's reader is 
Italophone, Anglophone or Eskimoan for that matter. The text only asks the 
reader to recognize that the words are signifiers, and that since they have been 
organized by a subjective voice, they speak to someone, perhaps not the "you" 
of the reader, but someone. 

Rosselli was bom into the high bourgeois tradition of Italy: she passed 
through the French, the English and the American traditions, and then fmally 
retumed to Italy as an adult. In her book, Sleep, she partially reveals the mistrust 
that she developed for language in her adolescent years, indeed the period in 
which linguistic formation is galvanized. The executioner and the hatchet in her 
work represent the attraction to death present in ali works of art. "'[A]rt takes 
on murder and moves through it," writes Kristeva. "It assumes murder in so far 
as artistic practice considers death the inner boundary of the signifying process. 
Crossing that boundary is precisely what constitutes 'art'" (119-20). Finally, 
Amelia Rosselli can sleep. 

To die, to sleep — 
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub. 

Amelia Rosselli has the courage to breach and overcome Hamlet 's "rub." 
Jeremy Parzen 
Department ofitalian 
University of California, Los Angeles 



Notes 

'Lacan 199 (Easthope 31) 

^"The boats, and trains, and cows and horses were quite meaningless to [Tarzan], 
but not quite so baffling as the odd little figures which appeared beneath and between the 
colored pictures — some strange kind of bug he thought they might be, for many of them 
had legs though nowhere could he fmd one with eyes and a mouth. It was his first 
introduction to the letters of the alphabet, and he was over ten years old" (Burroughs 43). 
Tarzan does return, however, to his parents cabin and makes a discovery similar to that 
of the Lacanian wayfarer: "In his hands was a primer opened at a picture of a little ape 
similar to himself, but covered, except for hands and face, with strange, colored fur, for 



38 



CARTE ITALIANE 



such he though the jacket and trousers to be. Beneath the picture were three little bugs 

BOY. 

And now he had discovered in the text upon the page that these three were repeated 
many times in the same sequence. 

Another fact he leamed — that there were comparatively few individuai bugs; but 
these were repjeated many times, occasionally alone, but more often in company with 
others" (Burroughs 48). 

'Already a tension had developed in the linguistic hegemony of the household: "Si 
parlava francese anche in casa, tranne che con mio padre, fedele all'italiano. Quando 
arrivava lo zio Nello, si parlava sempre in italiano; l'inglese l'ho dovuto imparare dopo." 
Intervista ad Amelia Rosselli (in Antologia poetica 1 50) 

"Actually her first contact was at the age of sixteen, as Rosselli herself explains in 
the quote above. 

'Re writes of Mengaldo's introduction: "What is most striking, however, is the 
extent to which the anthologist's treatment of Rosselli constitutes a form of mis- 
representation in terms of the very categories he establishes. For, as even cursory perusal 
of Mengaldo's own choice of poems reveals, Rosselli 's work is formally experimental 
and resists any immediate naturalization. Her link with the Italian neoavanguardia, 
while neither slavish nor obvious, cannot be denied" (134). 

*It is interesting to note — as Rosselli revealed in an interview about Sleep — that the 
work began as polyglot diary that was then abandoned when she wanted to "acquire 
security" in Italian, her father's tongue: "Nei primi tempi scrivevo a mano un diario in 
tre lingue, camminando e cercando di sentire se non proprio un campo magnetico 
qualcosa del genere. Quei testi non rappresentavano una soluzione ma un esercizio. 
Avrei voluto pubblicarli come qualcosa di momentaneo, di sperimentale. Maturava in 
quegli anni la volontà di esprimermi in italiano, di acquisire una sicurezza che ancora non 
avvertivo." As cited by Caporali 9. 

^Webster 's New Twentieth-Century Dictionary o/the English Language. New York: 
Collins World, 1978. 1666. 

*Even Tandello uses the word. See quote above. 



Works Cited 

Burroughs, Edgar Rice. Tarzan of the Apes. New York: Ballantine, 1975. 

Caporali, Marco. '"Sleep, Poesie in inglese di Amelia Rosselli." Poesie 28 (1990): 1-9. 

Easthope, Anthony. Poetry as Discourse. London: Methuen, 1983. 

Kristeva, Julia. The Kristeva Reader. New York: Columbia UP, 1986. 

Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts ofPsychoanalysis. London: Hagarth, 

1977. 
Mengaldo, Pier Vincenzo. Poeti italiani del Novecento. Milan: Mondadori, 1990. 
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. "Notizia su Amelia Rosselli." Il Menabò 6 (1963): 66-69. 
Re, Lucia. "Poetry and Madness." Shearsman o/Sorts: Italian Poetry 1975- 1993. Stony 



AMELIA ROSSELLI'S SLEEP (SONNO): BEYOND THE DOUBLE-MARGIN 39 



Brook: Forum Italicum, 1992. 133-52. 
Rosselli, Amelia. Antologia poetica. Milan: Garzanti, 1987. 

. Sleep (Sonno). Milan: Garzanti, 1992. 

Suleiman, Susan. Subversive Intent. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990. 

randello, Emmanuela. "Doing the Splits: Language(s) in Amelia Rosselli 's Poetry.' 

Journal of the Institute of Romance Studies I (1992): 363-73. 



La colpa di essere nati: 
Exile Through the Eyes of Italian Jews 



Song of Exile 

Exile is the emptiness — for however much you brought 

with you, there's far more you've left behind. 
Exile is the ego that shrinks, for how can you prove 

what you were and what you did? 
Exile is the erasure of pride. 
Exile is the escape that is often worse than the prison. 

Exile is the xenophobe — for every single one who likes you, 
you'U find ten in whom there is nothing but hate. . . . 

Exile is the loneliness in the middle of a crowd — 

Exile is longing never to be fulfilled, 

it is love unrequited, the loss never replaced — 

the listless, loveless, long wait for the train 

that never arrives, the piane that never gets off the ground. 

Exile is the end and never the beginning — 

Exile is the eruption whose lava stream carries you away — 

it is the etemity measured in minutes, the eyes 

that never enjoy the familiar sight, 

the ears that listen to alien music. 

Exile is a song that only the singer can hear. 

Exile is an illness that not even death can cure — for how 

can you rest in soil that did not nourish you? 
Exile is the waming example to those who stili 

bave their homes, who belong. 
But will you take heed of the waming? (Cited by labori 14) 

The Italian writer Primo Levi urges us to answer that questioiì. The danger 
in viewing another as an Other, of believing that "ogni straniero è nemico" lies 



40 



LA COLPA DI ESSERE NATI 41 



in its overwhelming destructive power, for when this "dogma inespresso diventa 
premessa maggiore di un sillogismo," Levi wams us, "allora, al termine della 
catena, sta il Lager" (Se questo è un uomo 9). 

On the tenth of January, 1 946, almost a year after Primo Levi's release from 
Auschwitz, he wrote a poem entitled "Shemà " His poem, addressed to those 
who "stili have their homes, who belong" juxtaposes their image of comfort to 
the image of a prisoner, "reduced to bestiai condition, only questionably a human 
being" (Harrowitz 32). His words ask us to consider whether a man is stili a man, 
and a woman stili a woman when subjected to the utmost atrocities. For at 
Auschwitz, as Elie Wiesel wrote, "not only man died, but also the idea of man" 
(in Literaty Exile 705): 

Voi che vivete sicuri 
Nelle vostre tiepide case. 
Voi che trovate tornando a sera 
D cibo caldo e visi amici: 

Considerate se questo è un uomo. 

Che lavora nel fango 

Che non conosce pace 

Che lotta per mezzo pane 

Che muore per un si o per un no. 

Considerate se questa è una donna. 

Senza capelli e senza nome 

Senza più forza di ricordare 

Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo 

Come una rana d'inverno. (LcV\, "Shemà," Ad ora incertàf 

While the first part of the poem confronts the reader with a question, the 
second part of the poem commands him to never forget it: 

Meditate che questo è stato: 
Vi comando queste parole. 
Scolpitele nel vostro cuore 
Stando in casa andando per via, 
Coricandovi alzandovi: 
Ripetetele ai vostri figli. 

vi si sfaccia la casa. 
La malattia vi impedisca, 

1 vostri nati torcano il viso da voi. 

Levi's words are a paraphrase of the Shemà,^ the most basic and essential 
prayer in Judaism. Recited daily, it is a cali to monotheism, a command to love 



42 



CARTE ITALIANE 



the Lord, to teach and forever remember His word: 

Hear O Israel: The Lord Our God, The Lord is One. And thou shalt love 
the Lord thy God with ali thy heart, and with ali thy soul, and with ali thy might. 
And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thy heart; and thou 
shall teach them diligently unto thy children, and thou shall talk of them when 
thou sittest in thy house, 

and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when 
thou risest up. (Deuteronomy 6) 

Levi's command, however, is of a much darker cali — it is the command 
required after the events of the Holocaust. And it is the curse upon those who 
forget, for their very forgetfulness lies in the perpetuation of such inhumanity. 
"Forgetfulness lies at the root of exile, just as remembrance lies at the root of 
deliverance," Elie Wiesel cautions us (Wiesel and de Saint-Cheron 96). It is for 
this reason that Holocaust survivors such as Primo Levi and Wiesel have striven 
to retell their stories, to resumé the survivor's sacred responsibility of hearing 
witness to the horrible truth. Levi sees it as "un dovere" yet also as "un rischio: 
il rischio di apparire anacronistici, di non essere ascoltati" ("1 sommersi e i 
salvati," Opere 819). For though there comes a healing in sharing, there lies the 
pain of recalling that which cannot be understood by those who have not 
experienced it. "E un godimento intenso, fisico, inesprimibile, essere nella mia 
casa, fra persone amiche, e avere tante cose da raccontare," Levi recalls in Se 
questo è un uomo, "ma non posso non accorgermi che i miei ascoltatori non mi 
seguono . . . essi sono del tutto indifferenti: parlano confusamente d'altro fra di 
loro, come se io non ci fossi" (53). As another Holocaust survivor observed, the 
univers concentrationnaire is "a universe apart, totally cut off, the weird 
kingdom of an unlikely fatality" (Radei iflf-Umstead 61). Exile proves inescap- 
able, for even upon one's return, it haunts the individuai. 

Exile, with its accompanying physical, psychological and religious anguish, 
has been an intrinsic part of Jewish thought and history since the destruction of 
the First Tempie. The image of the Wandering Jew forever in exile, without a 
homeland, is merely a mirror of an historical reality.^ This exile has not only 
entailed physical and material displacement. For a people whose identity, at 
least initially, depended on their faith, an exile from Israel was devastating since 
their religion was intrinsically tied to the land. As expressed in the prayer, "The 
Anguish ofZion:" 

The headstone [Jerusalem] has been tumed into ruins, into a plowing ground, 
and the inheritors of the Heritage [Torah] have become an object of scorn 
among the nations. My heart aches within me, pained and anguished, for we 



LA COLPA DI ESSERE NATI 43 



are left as without a father and have become as orphans. [Israel,] tender and 
delicate, who was surrounded by a hedge of roses, is now in distress [and] is 
handed over into the band of ber adversaries. [Jerusalem] tbe faitbful city bas 
become as a window, and tbe children [of Israel of wbom it is said,] "Wbo can 
count them?" bave been sold witbout money. 

(Cited in Front Exile to Redemption 3)* 

This spiritual anguish was felt intensely by a population who, strong in 
religious faith, suffered a feeling of being disconnected from the Divine. As the 
Jewish people resettled in other lands, a new attachment to the adopted homeland 
often challenged the spiritual coimection previously felt for the holy land, Israel. 
With loyalties tom, a return to the spiritual homeland was not always easy. As 
the Jewish Italian poet Angiolo Orvieto expressed in his poem "Il vento di Sion:" 

The beckoning mirage of Zion 

is smail comfort to a Fiorentine Jew 

even if I too dream bappily of palm trees 

and of Temple's columns arisen again 

Too much lively Latin wind 

bas stirred my Eastem blood 

lulled by age old indolence 

Palm trees, yes, but the cypresses of Florence? 

The Tempie, yes, but what of this cathedra] 

with its marble flowering in the sky? 

I am not like him, the one who calls for me 

like a human beli, for I would not be able 

to tum my back on my Tuscan people 

even though at times they cry "Down with the Jews" 

Here are my roots, too painful 

to sever . . . and then, for what dream? 

The Messiah will come, but perhaps not quite yet 

Leave me be with this air, these bronzes 

and Verrochio's marbles, the smiling images of Ghirland 

with the octaves of my beloved Poliziano! (Cited in Garden and Ghettos 153) 

This poem, written in 1928, was witness to another crisis occurring within 
the Jewish community. With the progressive emancipation of Jews throughout 
Europe during the nineteenth century, the Jewish community faced a period of 
change and instability. Assimilation, accompanied by frequent conversions to 
Christianity, weakened Jewish identity and faith. The rise of positivism in 
science and philosophy further undermined traditional religious beliefs. 
Inevitably, Jewish communities became "less clearly defined and there ensued 



44 CARTE ITALIANE 



a collective crisis of assimilation and identity" (Moloney 56). Ironically, 
marginalization from scx;iety had helped to maintain Jewish values and identity. 

Assimilation within society and loss of religious faith did not, however, free 
the Jews of their cultural heritage. At the tum of the century Italian Jews, no 
longer confined to the walls of the ghetto, stili felt the burden of their Jewishness. 
Italo Svevo, seertiingly oblivious to his cultural and religious heritage, suffered 
the "small discomfitures of being a Jew without any of the consolations of 
Judaism" (Moloney 57). In 1880, he was refiised employment because of his 
"Israelite" heritage. The writer's use of numerous pseudonyms attests to a desire 
to conceal his origins; origins which he solemnly acknowledges as being 
difficult for his two Jewish literary friends, Umberto Saba and Giacomo 
Debenedetti. Contemplating an essay on Kafka, he cormnented: "Yes, he was 
a Jew. Certainly, the Jew's position is not a comfortable one" (Gatt-Rutter 57). 

Svevo recognized a dilemma which forever confronts the Jew: the weight of 
carrying a heritage which, even if not embraced, carries a responsibility, an 
awareness, a certain sensitivity. Natalia Ginzberg addresses this in her 
autobiographical work Vita immaginaria: 

Io sono ebrea. Tutto quello che riguarda gli ebrei, mi sembra sempre che mi 
coinvolga direttamente. Sono ebrea solo per parte di padre, ma ho pensato 
sempre che la mia parte ebraica doveva essere in me più pesante e ingombrante 
dell'altra parte. (177-78) 

Both Svevo and Ginzberg rarely, if ever, make mention of their Jewish identity. 
Yet, they do not seem to overlook its personal significance. No longer connected 
to their religion, their Jewishness stili entails a sense of exile, of alienation. Its 
focus, however, has shifted. While the religious Jew suGFers a spiritual anguish 
in his exile from both God and Israel, the exile of the non-religious Jew carries 
a psychological dimension, an exile suflfered from the sense of feeling Other. 
Though the focus of alienation has shifted, its sense is stili there. Whether the 
Jew is religious or not, the feeling of exile exists; actively apparent during 
wartime and even during peace, a feeling that, as Elie Wiesel claims, is 

. . . stili present, but difierent. Exile in peacetime makes us feel uncomfortable. 
It's a kind of reminder: Watch out, you will not be bere long; you come from 
somewhere else, and someday you will be going somewhere else. (92) 

Elie Wiesel 's words would have seemed irrelevant, however, to the Italian 
Jews at the tum of the century. By the mid nineteen-hundreds, most Italian Jews 
were middle class, well-educated, highly secularized citizens. Accepted in 
society, traces of anti-semitism were, by and large, uncommon. It is for this 



LA COLPA DI ESSERE NATI 45 



reason that during the later years of Fascism, racial discrimination and persecution 
carne as a shock to the Jewish conimunity. Italian Jews generally viewed 
themselves as "Itahans first, Jewish second" (Segre 18). Most young Jews were 
drawn to secular and humanistic ideologies rather than Jewish rehgious and 
cultural traditions. Primo Levi himself comments that his Jewishness, before the 
war, was simply "un puro fatto culturale" {Autoritratto 19). Ironically, Levi's 
experiences during the Resistance and the Holocaust deepened his Jewish 
identity. Levi testifies to this himself, for in the midst of persecution he renews 
and recaptures a heritage, an identity that lay latent. Levi's awareness of his 
heritage and pride in it grew in relation to the racial persecution and developed 
as a result of his survival in Auschwitz: "Sono diventato ebreo in Auschwitz. La 
coscienza di sentirmi diverso mi è stata imposta .... Facendomi sentire ebreo, 
[Auschwitz] mi ha sollecitato a recuperare, dopo, un patrimonio culturale che 
prima non possedevo" ("Cronologia" xliii). Through his encounters with the 
Eastem European Jews, he discovers a culture that is strange, because of its 
different language, yet also oddly familiar. During the recital of the Kaddish, the 
Prayer for the Dead, Levi listens to their words and experiences a sense of shared 
destiny — that "dolore antico del popolo che non ha terra, il dolore senza speranza 
dell'esodo ogni secolo rinnovato" (Se questo 13) which draws him closer to his 
Jewish identity. In the tragic making of history every prisoner's story becomes 
the story of, as Levi writes, "una nuova Bibbia" {Se questo 59). 

A recapturing of identity is, in the midst of exile, essential to the individuai. 
For writers such as Levi and Bassani it is cruciai to recover one's identity and 
heritage. Even for a writer like Umberto Saba, who never claimed a connection 
to his Jewishness and was unwilling to "recognize a cultural distinction between 
what was Jewish and what was not" (Hughes 67) for, as he wrote in his preface 
to Gli ebrei "dififerences are more a matter of style than substance," ali being 
nothing more than "a splash of color" (Saba, Stories 1 1), a walk by the Jewish 
cemetery rekindles a memory of comfort. In his poem "Tre vie," he recalls with 
affection his Jewish ancestry: 

il vecchio cimitero 

degli ebrei, cosi caro al mio pensiero, 

se vi penso i miei vecchi, dopo tanto 

penare e mercatare, là sepolti, 

simili tutti d'animo e di volti. (Saba, Per conoscere Saba 201). 

The cemetery serves as a place to remember one's ancestry, to recapture 
one's heritage, a link with the past which is as real as the present. In Bassani 's 
book Gli occhiali d 'oro, the Jewish narrator also expresses this affìnity with his 
cherished past. Here though, the cemetery is not simply a place of affection, 



46 CARTE ITALIANE 



sympathy and compassion, but a place of redemption, where the narrator, by 
recapturing the value of his past, renews his sense of self. In the midst of lethal 
persecution, the narrator must struggle to redefine himself, for his identity is no 
longer inescapable from the image created by society. By finding a link to his 
own past and place in the community, he is able to overcome an overwhelming 
sense of desolation. In his moment of "silenzio ostinato" of desperation, of an 
"atroce senso di esclusione," he recovers his past, becoming part of something 
which is greater than the destructive label placed on him by society. Overlooking 
the city and Jewish graveyard, the young man overcomes his identity crisis and 
sense ofalienation: 

Quand'ecco ... mi sentii d'un tratto penetrare da una gran dolcezza, da una pace 
e da una gratitudine tenerissime. Il sole al tramonto, forando una scura coltre 
di nuvole bassa sull'orizzonte, illuminava vivamente ogni cosa .... Mi era 
bastato recuperare l'antico volto materno della mia città, riaverlo ancora una 
volta tutto per me, perché quell'atroce senso di esclusione che mi aveva 
tomentato nei giorni scorsi cadesse all'istante. (Bassani, Gli occhiali 84) 

In the midst of persecution, both Bassani and Levi recognize the healing 
power felt upon connecting to one's heritage and self Both writers, however, 
recognize the difficulties faced by those who, having survived persecution, must 
return to society. For the absence of persecution does not guarantee an absence 
of pain. Primo Levi discovers that exclusion created by history haunts the 
individuai even after the event. From the destruction suffered from an historical 
exile Comes the anguish endured of an interior exile. Ridden with a sense of guilt. 
Primo Levi is tormented by the question of why he has survived and what right 
he has to the life he leads. He is a "guiltless victim" but as a survivor he carries 
a heavy weight. In the poem "Il superstite" Levi implores the ghostly companions 
who haunt him to leave: 

Indietro, via di qui, gente sommersa. 
Andate. Non ho soppianto nessuno. 
Non ho usurpato il pane di nessuno. 
Nessuno è morto in vece mia. Nessuno. 
Ritornate alla vostra nebbia. 
Non è mia colpa se vivo e respiro 
E mangio e bevo e dormo e vesto panni. 

On the threshold of retuming home. Primo Levi faces the challenge of 
retelling his story and the doublé anguish that accompanies it: the fear of being 
silenced, misunderstood and the anguish of a forever haunting memory. The 
German's cruel words, that "if anyone did by chance survive and try to teli the 



LA COLPA DI ESSERE NATI 47 



Story, no one would believe it" (Feldman 147) haunt Levi, for tragically, they 
bave proven true by the groups and individuals who have insisted that the 
Holocaust never took place. And his attempt to return to normalcy, to escape the 
memoiy of the concentration camp, proves impossible. In his poem "Alzarsi" 
Levi dreams "of going home, of eating, of telling our story;" yet, as the poem 
reveals, even after reaching home he fmds no peace. He writes: 

Ora abbiamo ritrovato la casa, 
ìi nostro ventre è sazio, 
Abbiamo finito di raccontare. 
È tempo. Presto udremo ancora 
Il comando straniero: 
«Wstawac.» 

"Wstawac," the Polish word for "Wake up!", is the "condanna di ogni 
giorno" (Se questo 56) which aimounced the beginning of each excruciating day 
in the concentration camp. Even now this word tortures Levi's consciousness, 
rendering him forever victim to the past. 

The struggle to return to normalcy and its inherent diffìculties is expressed 
by Giorgio Bassani's fictional character. Geo Josz, in his short story "Una lapide 
in via Mazzini." In this story, as in others, Bassani represents existence as a 
"state of exile where individuals remain forever excluded from the life of others." 
Exile also transcends "geographical and politicai banishment as it comes to 
represent the psychological condition of being apart from others" (RadclifF- 
Umstead 37-38). Geo Josz, the only Holocaust survivor of his town, Ferrara, 
retums to discover that his name is inscribed on the plaque being put up on the 
synagogue in remembrance of the 183 Ferrarese Jews who were deported to 
Germany in the autumn of 1943. The town has chosen to include him with the 
"dead past," a past that the community would prefer to forget, acknowledging it 
by the simpler means of a plaque that may collect dust in time. "Egli era tornato 
quando più nessuno l'aspettava. Che cosa voleva, adesso?" (Bassani, "Una 
lapide" 100) the people of Ferrara ask. Exiled into death, he retums from it; yet, 
seen as a haunting remnant of the past, he suffers ultimate exclusion by the 
rejection of the community. 

Upon his return to Ferrara, he is barely recognized. Starvation edema has 
transformed his body into a mass of fat, fat which the townspeople see as proof 
of the favorable conditions of the concentration camp — "L'èdèma da fame non 
esisteva, era una invenzione bella e buona" (Bassani, "Una lapide" 101). Even 
when the community does accept him, it is on their own very narrow, superficial 
terms. Apologies are given for not having recognized him immediately, for 
having tried to "respingerlo, di escluderlo" (Bassani, "Una lapide" 109) yet their 



48 CARTE ITALIANE 



"inclusion" of him never addresses who he is as a person. Their insistence that 
they too have changed — "Ma vedi: anche noi siamo cambiati, il tempo è passato 
anche per noi ..." (Bassani, "Una lapide" 109) — resounds as a hollow 
supplication to a man who has survived an indescribable horror. Their 
conviction that life must go on, that abright future awaits ali, sounds meaningless 
to Geo, for he cannot separate himself from his past experience. 

Why is it that he must hold on to his memory, to a past that seemingly 
condemns him? The community asks: 

Possibile che dopo essere sceso all'inferno, e per miracolo esseme risalito, in 
lui non ci fosse altro impulso che di rievocare immobilmente il passato, cosi 
come provava in qualche modo l'agghiacciante schiera di fotografie dei suoi 
morti? (Bassani, "Una lapide" 111) 

Yet, how can we determine a past static when the past itself is in Constant 
dialogue with the present? As Eugenio Montale conveys in his poem "Dora 
Markus," one's past, as opposed to facts on a blackboard, cannot be erased. Dora, 
herself Jewish and threatened by Nazi persecution, carries "una storia di errori 
/ imperturbati e la incide / dove la spugna non giunge" (Montale 159). Dora, as 
Bassani 's protagonist Geo, is part of a past which concurrently defmes the 
present. However victim to his past, he is also defined by it. If he were to sever 
himself from it, he would lose a part of his very self. 

Geo is never successfìil in conveying the horrors of deportation because the 
community, in itsbelief that history will fade into oblivion, refuses to acknowledge 
a reality they themselves were guilty of creating or condoning. Geo's only path 
for acceptance is by socially conforming and disassociating his past from the 
present. Yet, the veil of conformity is forever lifted when Geo is confronted with 
an image of that very past which haunts him. Ali the agony that Geo strives to 
suppress surges forth when, during "una passeggiata," he sees a former Fascist 
Secret Police informer, Lionello Scocca, standing against a marble shafì that 
"aveva tenuto in piedi, per secoli, uno dei tre cancelli del ghetto" (Bassani, "Una 
lapide" 1 16). Even here, it is as if his insidious presence is a warning to the Jew 
that he is forever under the observant eye of the controlling society. Scocca's 
presence, however, reveals the underlying hypocrisy and deceit concealed under 
a facade of normalcy . The audacity of this man who, as perpetuator of hideous 
crimes and untold suffering, now stands calmly, innocently on a Street corner, 
is too much for Geo — and the silent lie is broken by Geo slapping Scocca, with 
"due schiafii secchi" (Bassani, "Una lapide" 1 18). By condoning the presence 
of such a criminal the city has fallen back to its corrupt and superficial ways. Yet, 
in a twist of absurdity, Lionello Scocca is pardoned by the community and it is 
instead Geo who is criticized for his actions. 



LA COLPA DI ESSERE NATI 49 



From the moment of his reawakening, Geo Josz endeavors to compel the 
people of Ferrara to remember their past. By appearing publicly in his squalid 
concentration camp uniform and showing photographs of his dead relatives. Geo 
is determined to reveal a past of suffering, now overlooked by the public. 
Throughout the city, however, the immediate reaction is to reject the reminder 
of a past best forgotten. As one critic observes, 

To the public the man in the ragged camp uniform is a travestito — someone 
in disguise or costume. But in truth, the actual masquerade was Josz in his 
newly tailored suit stroUing at dusk and smiling at lovely girls on bicycles, as 
if nothing had ever happened to him and his family. (RadclifT-Umstead 58) 

This, however, is the masquerade that society accepts; just as the old-line 
Fascists, "vecchi, ormai inoffensivi" are ofifered respect, even sympathy in their 
demure, quiet ways. These are men who appear "tanto più umani, tanto più 
commoventi e meritevoli di pietà che non l'altro, che non Geo" (Bassani, "Una 
lapide" 123). Tragically, in Geo's attempi to instili "the lessons of yesterday"*° 
his exclusion from the community is sealed. The people fail to display any sense 
of guilt or profound change. Ultimately, Geo's reintegration into the community 
proves impossible. 

Rejected by the community. Geo seals his exile by disappearing from the 
city, abandoning it forever. While Geo chooses to leave Ferrara, suicide is often 
chosen by the individuai as the only response possible to exile. ^ Death is not 
viewed as an escape from life but as the ultimate solace from the exile that is 
endured. In Bassani 's novel L 'Airone, the protagonist destroys himself because 
his identity has been shattered. In the midst of despair and endured persecution, 
self-inflicted death is viewed as the only possible solution. Levi, too, spoke of 
this consolation in death, in his poem "Verso valle:" 

Fin quando mi obbediranno queste buone membra? 

È fatto tardi per vivere e per amare. 

Per penetrare il cielo e per comprendere il mondo. 

È tempo di discendere 

Verso valle, con visi chiusi e muti, 

A rifugiarci all'ombra delle nostre cure. 

In Bassani ' s short stor>' "Il muro di cinta" we are told that "soli i morti stanno 
bene" (9) In his novel Gli occhiali d'oro, death brings final liberation in the 
midst of social banishment. Destroyed by the limitations and prejudices of the 
community, Dr. Fadigati commits suicide as the only response possible to the 
complete destruction of his identity. Dr. Fadigati 's "colpa" lies not in his being 



50 CARTE ITALIANE 



Jewish, but in being a homosexual. Disdainfully accepted, this "vizio di 
Fadigati" is h>pocritically accepted by the community only when it is kept secret. 

Through the eyes of the narrator, who is Jewish himself, Dr. Fadigati's 
exclusion from society parallels his own situation. As the community 's rejection 
of Dr. Fadigati increases, the narrator's sense of isolation grows deeper. The 
result of being "dififerent," of being Jewish, is felt in numerous experiences that 
reinforce the individuai' s sense of fear, solitude and bitterness. The sin of being 
Jewish, and the persecution because of it, is theorized as the result of the "ira 
celeste." Thus justified, society punishes the Jew by the promulgation of the 
"leggi razzionali." Overcome by an "atroce sense di esclusione" that torments 
the narrator, his future is bleak, one of "persecuzioni e di massacri" that "fin da 
bambino ne avevo continuamente sentito parlare come di un'eventualità per noi 
ebrei sempre possibile" (Bassani, Gli occhiali 84). From this fear and e.xclusion, 
a hatred grows towards the oppressor, an "indicibile ripugnanza, l'antico, 
atavico odio dell'ebreo nei confronti di tutto ciò che fosse cristiano, cattolico, 
insomma go/" (Bassani, Gli occhiali 84). The Jew's "umiliazione, ribrezzo" 
exists because of the humiliation of a society that has marked him as different — 
the degradation stemming from the belief that, as Levi warned us, "ogni straniero 
è nemico." 

As society's persecution intensifies, the friendship between the Jewish 
narrator and Dr . Fadigati ' s becomes stronger . The narrator accepts and tolerates 
Dr. Fadigati. By sharing an understanding and compassion that can only be felt 
with another outcast, exclusion becomes the "ultimate form of social identity" 
(Radcliff-Umstead 83). Dr. Fadigati is driven to a state of complete isolation — 
"Ma era possibile durare indefinitamente a vivere così, nella solitudine più 
assoluta, circondato dall'ostilità generale?" (Bassani, Gli occhiali 99) Separated 
from society, he also suffers from an identity crisis: "Accettare di essere quello 
che sono? O meglio adattarmi ad essere quel che gli altri vogliono che sia?" 
(Bassani, Gli occhiali 1 10) Society has lead him not only to hate his true self, 
and detest the mask he carries to cover it, but to reject the alternative — 
conformity, which is a type of deception and insanity. 

The narrator experiences this same rejection due to his Jewishness. Acceptance 
by society is impossible as it lies in negating the individual's essential being: "for 
Fadigati to give up being homosexual or for the narrator to give up being Jewish 
would mean for each of them to give up their identities — identities that they may 
not have chosen but which nonetheless define them and without which they 
would be nothing" (Radcliff-Umstead 83). To be bom Jewish is, as Ferdinando 
Camon observed in an interview with Primo Levi, "una colpa. L'ebreo per il solo 
fatto di essere nato doveva scontare questa 'colpa': la colpa di esistere" 
(Autoritratto 30). 



LA COLPA DI ESSERE NATI 51 



Thus, the Jew, by beingbom a Jew, is in automatic exile. This exile, initially 
caused by historical events, is followed by a profound state of psychic exile. For 
both Primo Levi and Bassani, exile is experienced physically and psychologically, 
via their Jewishness. Their writings reflect the moral and psychological anguish 
of racial persecution and the painfiil struggle required to maintain one's identity. 
Bassani is unique in embracing his Judaism; he alone celebrates his "Italian 
Jewish heritage as the underiying and pervasive theme of his work" (Hughes 
115). This contrasts sharply with other nineteenth- and twentieth-century 
Italian Jewish writers. Natalia Ginzberg and Carlo Levi, as well as Umberto 
Saba and Italo Svevo, make few comments in respect to their Judaism. Neither 
do their writings have specifically Jewish characters or themes. Thus, one may 
ask if their Jewishness influences their writings. If there is a Jewish perspective 
within their writings, how is it expressed? And is exile, the age old theme of 
Jewish consciousness, e.xpressed in their writings which seem otherwise lacking 
in Jewish content? 

Many critics have asserted that in Svevo 's writings there are no "discemible 
elements . . . which on first reading might be termed Jewish" (Moloney 52). This 
seems surprising considering that Svevo was raised and educated within a Jewish 
environment. In addition, Trieste 's Jewish population, relatively large for Italy" 
stood at cultural crossroads with Vienna and its Jewish community, thought and 
culture. Though Svevo's writings reflect little of his Jewish heritage, his 
correspondence reveals a writer who has not forgotten his origins. In a letter 
from London in 1 903, he writes his wife: "Kiss my Titinia [Letizia] and remind 
her of her father who may — as she says — no longer be a Jew but is more 
wandering than ever." During a later visit to London, Svevo tells us that upon 
suspecting that there were thieves in the house, he stepped away from the front 
door "with the prudence that Marco ascribes to my race" (Gatt-Rutter 144) 

Is Svevo's Jewish sensibility only reflected in his autobiographical works? 
The critics Debenedetti and E. Levi, whose essays on Svevo as a Jewish writer 
are most well known, both detect a Jewish element underiying his writings. 
While Debenedetti speaks of a "hidden" Jewishness, Levi states that Svevo's 
"introspective, self-doubting, self-deprecating characters are Jewish t>pes" 
(Moloney 54). Other critics have made reference to Svevo as being a "psycholo- 
gical Jew" in the sense that his characters reflect 

psychological traits commonly attributed to the Jewish sensibility: a sense of 
personal oppression made sociable by an acute but gentle self-irony, a passion 
for introspection and a simultaneous sense of the absurdity of life's logie 
constantly surprised by fantasy and desire. (Lebowitz 40) 

Umberto Saba, himself, called his friend Svevo "psychologically Jewish down to 



52 



CARTE ITALIANE 



the very marrow of his bones" (Cited by Weiss 135). 

While the characteristics of Alfonso Nitti in Una vita and Emilio Brentani 
in Senilità may be viewed as Jewish, these characteristics are also systematic of 
a historical period. Svevo's "disagio" and "senilità" are a reflection of the 
reoccurring concepts of the mal du siede, that literary period in which: 

a universa! nausea fills the heart of the Slavs, the Germans and the Latins and 
displays itself in the first in the shape of nihilism, in the second in the shape 
of pessimism, in us [the Latins] in the shape of solitary and bizarre neuroses. 

(Furbank 160) 

Thus, the traits displayed by Svevo's characters are not exclusively Jewish. Not 
even his use of humor, which Luti states is "legata alla sua stessa/orma mentis, 
che è borghese ed ebraica" (Moloney 55) should be labeled as specifìcally Jewish. 
Irony is appealing to and used by many writers. It is, however, Svevo's mode of 
expressing this irony that is unique. By drawing upon his Jewish heritage, Svevo 
depicts the humor of a stock Jewish character in his novel, La coscienza di Zeno. 
The protagonist, Zeno Cosini, presents himself to us as a schlemiel. 

The schlemiel is a literary figure in Jewish, and especially Yiddish, lore. He 
is the result of the rich culture and tortured history of Eastem European Jewry. 
Despite centuries of persecution and harassment, the communities strength lay 
in its marked resiliency. Without succumbing to desperation or defeat, the 
community "leamed to absorb severe shock without abandoning the image of 
man to which it had pledged itself, and without losing its love or desire for life" 
(Wisse x). The techniques used to survive, however, inevitably produced some 
self-disgustandbittemess. Yiddish humor reflects this. Itiscuttinglysharp;yet, 
it preserved sanity in the midst of absurdity. 

The schlemiel is the individuai whose life-style reflects these conflicts. He 
is "a fool; not of the charming, wily or saintly variety, but weak, inept and 
frequently disliked. In spite of his vices, or the humiliations he may sufier, he 
is a comic hero" (Moloney 60). Indeed, Zeno's failures comically tum into 
success: he proposes to the three Malfenti sisters and is accepted by the one he 
doesn't want to marry, who, ironically, proves to be the best wife after ali; he is 
unfaithful to Augusta, yet his infidelity strengthens the marriage; he achieves 
success on the stock exchange, whereas the handsome and "healthy" Guido 
Speier fails miserably . While both Guido and Zeno are incompetent as business 
men, Zeno's awareness of his inadequacies saves him. Guido, instead, is 
hindered by a false sense of security, which prevents him from seeing his own 
failings until too late. Zeno's "own defeatist acceptance of inadequacy preserves 
him where Guido is destroyed" (Furbank 184). Ironically, from Guido's min on 
the stock exchange, Zeno continues to speculate with the firm's remaining 



LA COLPA DI ESSERE NATI 53 



money and is highly successfiil. As Albert Goldman observes, the schlemiel's 
power "rests on his daring to lay bare his own weakness and to acknowledge his 
own limitations. Although he may appear pathetic or absurd, the schlemiel 
conceals behind his mask a hidden strength: a shrewd sense of self-preservation" 
(Cited by Weiss 63) His weakness proves to be his strength, for otherwise how 
could a weakling survive? 

Traditionally, the schlemiel' s humor is used in self-defense; he bases his life 
"on the assumption that because he is absurd he cannot be tragic," and thus "he 
retains the capacity to hope in circumstances which would drive ordinary men 
to despair" (Moloney 60). This belief comes through in the schlemiel's joking 
humor, which can be seen in the following: 

Sometime during World War I, a Jew lost his way along the Austro- 
Hungarian frontier. Wandering through the woods late at night, he was 
suddenly arrested by the challenge of a border-guard: "Halt, or IMI shoot!" The 
Jew blinked into the beam of the searchlight and said: 

"What's the matter with you? Are you crazy? Can't you see that this is 
a human being?" (Cited by Wisse 3) 

The Jew here is completely rational within the context of an ideal humanism. 
Yet, given the politicai reality he is seen as a fool, completely out of line with 
actual events. Zeno Cosini presents himself as this same fool when, during his 
moming walk, he is unexpectedly caught in the outbreak of a war. Zeno's walk 
is interrupted by the threatening waming of a soldier who, at gunpoint, yells at 
him to go "Zuruck! [Indietro!]." Disgusted with this treatment, he comments; 
"Pensai che al mio arrivo a Lucinico mi sarei subito recato a protestare dal 
capovilla per il trattamento che avevo dovuto subire" (Svevo 464-65). Later, 
upon coming across a battalion that blocks his path, Zeno is again verbally 
attacked to his utmost amazement. When an officiai detects Zeno and shouts: 
"Che cosa vuole quello scimunito?" Zeno is shocked — "Stupito che senz'alcuna 
provocazione mi si ofifendese così, volli dimostrarmi offeso virilmente." He 
continues: 

Gli raccontai che a Lucinico m'aspettava il mio caffelatte da cui ero diviso 
soltanto dal suo plotone. 

Egli rise, in fede mia rise. Rise sempre bestemmiando e non ebbe la 
pazienza di lasciarmi finire. Dichiarò che il caffelatte di Lucinico sarebbe stato 
bevuto da altri .... 

Non era facile di adattarsi di rinunziare al caffelatte da cui distavo non più 
di mezzo chilometro .... E mitemente domandai all'ufficiale: — Ma a chi 
dovrei rivolgermi per poter ritornare a Lucinico a prendere almeno la mia 
giubba e il mio cappello? (Svevo 465-66) 



54 



CARTE ITALIANE 



In the light of historical happenings Zeno appears the utter fool. Yet, his 
seemingly misplaced indignation reveals the insanity of the world itself, by 
"provoking our recognition that in an insane world, the fool may be the only 
morally sane man" (Wisse 4). 

Zeno finds himself in a ridiculous and threatening situation. As the 
schlemiel, he is also the symbol of the entire Jewish people. As a metaphor for 
European Jewry, the schlemiel is seen as "the model of endurance, his innocence 
a shield against corruption, his absolute defenselessness the only guaranteed 
defense against the brutalizing potential of might" (Wisse 5) The schlemiel' s 
actions are the result of a technique required if he is to survive. In the midst of 
persecution and oppression, the Jew's weakness, irony and foolishness become 
his strength and key to survival. Svevo, by presenting us with the character of 
Zeno, portrays a unique yet, nevertheless, recognizable variation of a stock 
Jewish type. Through the guise of the schlemiel, Svevo reveals his response to 
the diffìculties of exile. 

The critic Giorgio Voghera claims that the Jewish writers from Trieste "non 
hanno inftiso nella loro opera alcunché dello spirito biblico; né di quello sionista; 
né di quello dell 'autentico giudaismo dell'oriente europeo e dei ghetti" (Langella 
13). While this is true for both Svevo and Saba, their writings are not completely 
devoid of any Jewish quality . Their works evolved from "una coscienza ebraica," 
from the weight of their very heritage. Yet, there works also went beyond a 
completely Jewish perspective; both writers reflect the universal problems that 
face ali men. As James Joyce realized by making the hero of Ulysses a Jew, the 
protagonist Leopold Bloom is more than just a Jew, for "the Jew with his 
'hangups', his self-doubt . . . and his awkward, alienated stance is a twentieth- 
century symbol for Everyman" (Weiss 140). In his poem, "La capra," Saba 
specifically indicates that the "viso semita" of the "capra solitaria" is no more 
than "un verso prevalentemente visivo" (Guglielmino 454-55). Though the 
animai is identified as Jewish, its pain is an anguish felt by ali, "un dolore 
universale." By transcending his own Jewishness, Saba's poetry expresses the 
"condizione universale di dolore." Yet, the Jewish condition embodies and 
intensifies that very pain, for while pain thresholds vary among peoples, the 
Jewish community' s threshold has proven exceedingly high. Just as the 
"Chinaman" in Vittorini's Conversazione in Sicilia symbolizes an utmost 
solitude, for Chinese solitude, in rural Sicily, is said to make him "più uomo," 
the Jewishness of the "capra dal viso semita" symbolizes ali sufifering, yet 
intensified. While "alienation is . . . a centrai feature of human existence" 
(Kaufman xvii) the Jew carries an extra weighted history of it. As Elie Wiesel 
comments on the meaning of exile for him: 



LA COLPA DI ESSERE NATI 55 



I experience it [exile] metaphysically because a writer probably experiences 
certain things more intensely and a Jewish writer even more so. 

(Wiesel and de Saint-Cheron 92) 

Thus, Saba's sense of exile extends beyond his being Jewish to an exile that 
is universal, endured by ali human beings. As Carlo Levi observes: 

la capacità di trasformare questa universale angoscia nata nel fanciullo è 
rimasta nella vita individuale di un uomo, di volgerla in fuori, di esprimerla e 
trasformaria in universale amore e comprensione. (228) 

From his childhood, Saba experienced the pain of being abandoned by his 
non- Jewish father — "di malinconia fui tosto esperto; unico figlio che ha lontano 
il padre" (Saba, Per conoscere Saba 297).* Raised by his Jewish mother, his 
father became "l'assassino." Expressing his mother's waming in a poem, Saba 
reveals a painful realization: 

Non somigliare — ammoniva — tuo padre 
Ed io più tardi in me stesso lo intesi: 
Eran due razze in antica tenzone. 

The "due razze in antica tenzone" form the two poles of conflict within the poet, 
a "dissidio" which, Carlo Levi claims, "fu insomma uno dei motivi iniziali e 
profondi della sua poesia" (229). In "Le fughe," Saba expresses this pain: 

«O mio cuore dal nascere in due scisso, 
quante pene durai per uno fame! 
Quante rose a nascondere un abisso!» 

In Gli anni della psicanalisi, Giorgio Voghera observes that Saba claimed 
that "the dilemma of the Triestine Jews was that they had been brought up 
between two truths, that of their family and that of the surrounding Christian 
world" (Weiss 134). Even though Saba never distinguished himself as a Jewish 
writer, his writings are not completely devoid of Jewish influence: his Gli ebrei 
is a collection of short stories dedicated to his colorfiil memory of the Triestine 
ghetto and the Jews in his family and his poem "Tre vie" renews cherished 
memories in the Jewish cemetery. As other Jews, Saba could not escape his 
birthright. Forced into exile due to Italy's racial laws, Saba first escaped to Paris, 
followed by a year of hiding in Florence. Hidden in Montale' s house in Florence, 
there lay only a fine line that separated life from the zealous patriot who "per il 
compenso di 5000 lire a testa" (Saba, Per conoscere Saba 60) would send him 



56 



CARTE ITALIANE 



to the Germans and his death. His poem "Vetro rotto" captures the oppression 
and doom that surrounds him: 

Tutto si muove contro te. D maltempo, 
le luci che si spengono, la vecchia 
casa scossa a una raffica .... 
Ti pare il sopravvivere un rifiuto 
d'obbedienze alle cose. 

E nello schianto 
del vetro alla fmestra è la condanna. 

This poem speaks as well to ali those in hiding, whether as a Jew or a partigiano 
fìghting against Fascism. Carlo Levi maintained that Saba's talent lay in his 
ability to universalize everyday life. While he claims that Saba wove "un filo, 
una tradizione ebraica" within his writings, "perché il carattere di Saba era 
profondamente ebraico" (C. Levi 230), it is from this "carattere" that a new 
identity is found and shared with others. In a verse from "Mediterranee" he 
defìnes himself and his poetry: 

Pianse e capi per tutti 
era il tuo moto .... 

And in "Preludio e fughe" he writes: 

Poche ore serene 
il dolore mi lascia; 
il mio e di quanti 
esseri ho intomo 

Saba's pain goes beyond the personal — "Parla interrottamente di sé: ma 
appunto perché crede nell'esemplaritàdella propria vicenda esterioree interiore, 
perché ritiene che si rispecchi in essa il dramma non di un uomo, ma deiruomo" 
(Saba, Coi miei occhi 13: emphasis mine). 

Primo Levi, as Saba, lifts his works to a level of universality. His goal is not 
to pour out endless indignation, but instead to explore "alcuni aspetti dell'animo 
umano" (P. Levi, Se questo 9). Se questo è un uomo is unique in that, as opposed 
to other Holocaust literature such as Elie Wiesel's Night where "the protagonist 
is initiated into death rather than life," Levi "chronicles the survival of a man 
from innocence to understanding and from weakness to the strength of self- 
knowledge" (Gunzberg 82). The sufifering endured during exile and the feeling 
of alienation and pain pavé the way for a greater humanity. As Elie Wiesel 
observes, there is a "creative side of exile." From the ruins of suffering, the writer 



LA COLPA DI ESSERE NATI 57 



must reveal a higher truth, a greater hope — "It is the writer's task to make sure 
that his writing helps to raise man higher and not to degrade him" (Wiesel and 
de Saint-Cheron 92-93). 

Primo Levi, Giorgio Bassani, Natalia Ginzberg, Italo Svevo, and Umberto 
Saba ali experienced the pain of alienation, the anguish of exile, the sorrows of 
life. Though each writer reacted differently to the efifects of exile, they ali shared 
one common goal — to reach a better understanding of themselves and humanity. 
"When an Italian Jew wrote of the sufferings he or she had endured, it was not 
simply as a Jew: it was as someone giving testimony on behalf of ali the victims 
of oppression, wherever and of whatever religious origin they may be" (Hughes 
65). No matter how subtle their Jewish consciousness, however, they ultimately 
fulfìlled Judaism's highest command. For "the substance of Judaism," Elie 
Wiesel tells us, is identical to our greatest challenge — the calling "to remain 
human in a world that is inhuman" (in Literary Exile 101). 

Paula Matthews 

Department of Italian 

San Diego State University 



Notes 

'This poem and ali further citations of Levi's poetry are taken from Ad ora incerta. 

^Shemà means "Hear" or "Listen" in Hebrew. 

'See Paul labori 53-60, for a discussion on exile, Jewish history and the Wandering 
Jew. 

^This prayer — from the Selichos for Asarah BeTeves, Siddur Tehillat HaShem 
556— is read on the day which commemorates the destruction of the Tempie. 

^See RadclifT-Umstead 136-46, 157 for a further discussion on death/suicide as a 
response to and liberation from exile. 

*Following cited poems are from Per conoscere Saba. 



Works Cited 

Bassani, Giorgio. Gli occhiali d'oro. Milan: Mondadori, 1980. 

. "n muro di cinta." Le storie ferraresi. Turin: Einaudi, 1960. 

. "Una lapide in via Mazzini." Le storie ferraresi. Turin: Einaudi, 1960. 

Feldman, Ruth. "Primo Levi's Poetry: Darkness and Light." Reason and Light, Essays 

on Primo Levi. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990. 
From Exile to Redemption. Voi 1. New York: Kehot Publication Society, 1992. 
Furbank, P.N. Italo Svevo: The Man and the Writer. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. 
Garden and Ghettos, The Art of Jewish Life in Italy. Ed. Vivian Mann. Berkeley: U of 

California P. 1989. 



58 CARTE ITALIANE 



Gatt-Rutter. Italo Svevo. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1988. 

Ginzberg, Natalia. Vita immaginaria. Milan: Mondadori, 1974. 

Guglielmino, Salvatore. Guida al novecento. Milan: Principato, 1989. 

Gunzberg, Lynn. ""Nuotando altrimenti che nel Serchio": Dante as Vademecum for 

Primo Levi." Reason and Light, Essays on Primo Levi. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990. 
Harrowitz, Nancy. "Representations of the Holocaust: Levi, Bassani and the 

Commemorative Mode." Reason and Light, Essays on Primo Levi. Ithaca: Cornell 

UP, 1990. 
Hughes, H. Stuart. Prisoners of Hope: The Silver Age of the Italian Jews 1924-1974. 

Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1983. 
Kaufman, Walter. "The Inevitability of Alienation." Alienation. New York: Doubleday, 

1970. 
Langella, Giuseppe. Italo Svevo. Naples: Morano, 1992. 
Lebowitz, Naomi. Italo Svevo. New Jersey: Rutgers UP, 1978. 
Levi, Carlo. "Saba e il mondo ebraico." Lecture to a Jewish youth group delivered in 

December 1957. Rpt. in Coraggio dei miti: Scritti contemporanei, 1922-1974. Ed. 

Gigliola De Donato. Bari: De Donato, 1975. 
Levi, Primo. Autoritratto di Primo Levi. Ed. Ferdinando Camon. Padua: Edizioni Nord- 
Est, 1987. 

. "Cronologia." Opere. Voi. 1. Turin: Einaudi, 1987. 

. "I sommersi e i salvati." Opere. Voi. 1. Turin: Einaudi, 1987. 

. Se questo è un uomo. Turin: Einaudi, 1989. 

Literary Exile in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Martin Tucker. New York: Greenwood P, 

1991. 
Moloney, Brian. "Svevo as a Jewish Writer." Italian Studies 28 (1973). 
Montale, Eugenio. Tutte le poesie. Milan: Mondadori, 1977. 
Radcliff-Umstead. The Exile into Etemity. London: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1987. 
Saba, Umberto. Coi miei occhi. Ed. Claudio Milanini. Milan: D Saggiatore, 1981. 

. Per conoscere Saba. Ed. Mario Lavagetto. Milan: Mondadori, 1981. 

. The Stories and Recollections. Trans. Estelle Gilson. New York: Sheep 

Meadow P, 1993. 
Segre, Claudio. "Italian Jews and the Resistance: the Case of Primo Levi." Reason and 

Light, Essays on Primo Levi. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990. 
Svevo, Italo. La coscienza di Zeno. Turin: Garzanti, 1990. 
Tabori, Paul. The Anatomy of Exile, A Semantic and Historical Study. London: Harrap, 

1972. 
Weiss, Beno. Italo Svevo. Boston: Twayne, 1987. 
Wiesel, Elie and Philippe de Saint-Cheron. Evil and Exile. Trans. Jon Rothschild. 

London: U of Notre Dame P, 1990. 
Wisse, Ruth R. The Schlemiel as Modem Hero. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1971. 



Stealing Home: Flight From Exile 
in // ladro di bambini 



If I had wanted to make a movie based on ideological premises, I would 
have produced a sort of Rocco and His Brothers for the 1990s; I would have 
depicted the characters moving from South to North, towards the conflicts of 
contemporary Milan. But I did not pian to convey a portrait of Italy; I meant 
even less to confer on the South the edifying task of symbolizing a need for 
cleanliness. The characters are from the South but they travel from North to 
South because they are ordered to do so. They have neither roots, nor self- 
conscience. (D'Agostini)' 

Gianni Amelio, director of // ladro di bambini (Stolen Children) expressed these 
considerations, after receiving the Special Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film 
Festival in 1 992. His comments seem to prevent a socio-political interpretation 
of this movie. Understandably Amelio pays the utmost care in order not to be 
identifìed as a "politicai" movie director: evidently he does not intend to offer 
clear-cut solutions and, therefore, refiises to simpliiy the complex social reality 
of contemporary Italy. On the contrary, Amelio strives to depict a tronche de vie 
characterized by multiple outcomes and open to different interpretations. 

Many critics have mentioned the tradition of neorealist cinema as one of the 
main referents of this work. Some of the most famous works of Italian 
Neorealism define an interpretive structure for Stolen Children. The influence 
of this artistic movement on Amelio 's work does not consist only of quotes and 
tributes to the director 's teachers. It is recognizable as a dialogical relationship 
withprevious works of Neorealism which increases the possibility of signification 
of the movie. 

The purpose of this essay is to analyze some of the themes in the structure 
of Stolen Children, to discuss the dialogical relationship it establishes with the 
neorealist tradition, and to show how this tradition and the social and politicai 
phenomena of contemporary Italy are recognizable as sub-texts which influence 
the perception of the work, in spite of the director's attempt to deny the symbolic 
value of the characters he has created. The result is a movie which, from many 
respects, can actually be considered a Rocco and His Brothers for the 1990s. 



59 



60 



CARTE ITALIANE 



The foUowing is a brief summary of the plot: the narration begins in Milan, 
with the arrest of a woman accused of prostituting her 1 1 -year old daughter. The 
girl and her younger brother cannot be left in the care of other relatives, and the 
father abandoned them after the family moved from Sicily to Milan. The 
children must be entrusted to an institution and the task of accompanying them 
falls completely on a young carabiniere (paramilitary policeman) named 
Antonio. His colleague, who should have shared the assignment with him, 
instead decides to remain in Bologna, and asks Antonio to take care of the 
children by himself. Most of the movie describes the vicissitudes of the 
carabiniere and the two children, Rosetta and Luciano, in their voyage towards 
southern Ijtaly. The first destination is an orphanage in Civitavecchia, a city 
north of Rome. Adducing reasons having to do with bureaucracy the director of 
the instituiion refiises the children admittance. But the real motivations have to 
do with the sordid circumstances in which the girl was involved. Antonio has 
no other choice but to attempt to leave the children in care of another institution 
in Sicily which might accept them. The travel continues: in Rome Antonio and 
the children make a stop at a station of the carabinieri, and then go on towards 
Calabria. There the young officer decides to visit his sister and grandmother who 
live in the small town where he was bom. In this way the children will be able 
to recover from the long voyage in the train. Antonio's sister is busy with a 
reception for a girl who received her first communion, and her brother decides 
to hide the tnie identity of his young travel companions. He says that they are 
the children of a fellow worker who asked him the favor of taking them to Sicily. 
By this time the involvement of the young ofifìcer in the children' s lives has 
become a tangible reality. At the same time Rosetta and Luciano have overcome 
their previous attitudes, respectively, of defiance and obstinate silence, and they 
both reciprocate Antonio's manifestation of love and compassion. The climax 
of the relationship between the carabiniere and the children is reached when 
Antonio decides to stop at a beach in Sicily to swim and then treats Luciano and 
Rosetta to lunch. They meet two young women from France, who are touring 
southern Italy, and together they visit the cathedral of Noto. When a thief 
snatches a camera fi-om Rosetta' s hands Antonio is able to catch him and bring 
him to the locai police station. The ofiFicer in charge accuses the carabiniere of 
kidnapping the children instead of reporting his failed attempt to leave them in 
charge of an institution. The movie ends with the three characters who resumé 
their travel by car, trying to reach the orphanage. 

The structure of Stolen Children shows a dynamic of open and enclosed 
spaces whose juxtaposition reflects the evolution of the three main characters. 
Their travel towards southern Italy is depicted by means of their re-appropriation 
of the open space and of the naturai environment. The ocean, the beach, the 



STEALING HOME: FLIGHT FROM EXILE IN IL LADRO DI BAMBINI 61 



sunny summer environment, portrayed in the part where Antonio and the 
children make a stop at the seaside, contrast dramatically with the initial scenes 
in Milan, inside the constrictive apartment where the crime had been commi tted. 
Significantly the climax is reached in Sicily, where the children were bom. 
During the stop in Civitavecchia, which is a maritime town as well, the 
characters are stili depicted as oppressed by their personal tragedies and victims 
of the anonymity of bureaucracy. In this phase the scenes are stili urban 
landscapes and mostly enclosed spaces. 

The situation's improvement, which is defmed during the trip from 
Lombardy to Sicily, not only builds ties of afiFection among the three characters, 
but also posits the beach in Sicily as a temporary destination, where Antonio, 
Luciano and Rosetta reach the peak of their interaction as a symbolic family 
community. It is not possible to identify a domestic space that might ofifer a solid 
ground. Antonio's relatives' house does not represent an alternative to the 
comiption enmeshed in the children's lives. The illegality of this place of abode 
creates a parallel with the unlawfixlness of Rosetta's prostitution, sufFered in the 
apartment in Milan. In addition, it is precisely during the reception at Antonio's 
sister's home that the truth of Rosetta's identity is discovered by an inquisitive 
acquaintance of the family, who does not fail to notice the striking resemblance 
between Rosetta and a picture published on the cover of a scandal-mongering 
magazine. In this way the girl is marginalized once more, and the three 
characters have no other choice but to leave the house and resumé their travet. 

The depiction of the problems which follow Antonio and the children in 
southern Italy is consistent with the director' s determination of refusing to ofifer 
a vision of a mythical Italian South where everything is positive. This is 
confirmed by the Sicilian origin of the orphanage director in Civitavecchia, who, 
refiises ali the same to accept the children, and by the character of a Neapolitan 
carabiniere who attempts to talk Rosetta into physical intimacy during their stop 
in Rome. Flavio de Bemardinis comments on the fimction of different types of 
space depicted in Stolen Children and on the "radicai lack of distinction between 
open and enclosed space" (41). The author astutely sees Antonio's sister's house 
as a symbol of the environmental debasement of the Italian nation as a whole: 
"a house which has just been built, very new, and that in its glamorous 
precariousness is already ruined and dilapidated" (41). However, I would not 
extend the sense of degradation to include also the naturai environment 
portrayed in the movie. The house in Calabria does not fulfill an alternative 
function; rather, its constitutive essence underlines the comiption felt by the 
characters. On the other hand, the marine landscape is suggested as the space 
where a temporary regeneration is possible. The scene at the beach coincides 
with the higher point of the relationship between the characters. Significantly, 



62 



CARTE ITALIANE 



Antonio is shown not wearing a shirt, as a final stage of liberation from his 
officiai role, which he had begun by abandoning his uniform at the beginning of 
the journey . For the offìcer the sea represents a way of reliving for a short moment 
the joyous experience of swimming in his childhood, bringing him closer to the 
two children. 

But it is especially for Rosetta that swimming in the ocean implies a 
possibility of psychological evolution. This scene is placed in the structure of the 
work as a moment of ritual cleansing. The girl's ablution is contrasted with the 
description of the sexual acts the client forced her to perform. Rosetta tells 
Antonio that the man maintained that she was dirty and always wanted to wash 
her himself. "But l'm not dirty! I wash myself every single day!" objects the girl, 
and in this way she shows an intimate need to recover the physical and moral 
integrity which she feels she has lost. 

In Stolen Children the picaresque motif of the on-the-road genre is re- 
elaborated with specific contents, generated by Italy's cultural and politicai 
situation. The travel represents, for the three characters, an unconscious search 
for their cultural roots, a return to the land of their birth, from which they had 
been expelled as a result of economie conditions and the lack of jobs. If we go 
back to Amelio's considerations quoted at the beginning of this article, one could 
argue that in spite of the characters' absence of politicai consciousness and 
determination in re-discovering their roots, the common southern origin of 
Antonio and the children posits them as significant symbols of the social 
processes which have modified Italian society in the last decades. It is certainly 
true that we cannot attribute a class conscience to the children, nor to Antonio, 
whose actions are compelled by a confiised sense of solidarity rather than by 
conscious and willfiil acts. But, beyond the narrative and the textual requirements, 
the movement in space from Milan to Sicily assumes a symbolic value, which 
supplements the director's attempt of depicting reality as it is. The voyage of the 
three characters from North to South emblematically reverses the process of 
emigration from southern to northem Italy that characterized the years after 
World War II. The search for better job opportunities in the northern regions of 
the country has involved a great number of people, and Antonio himself and the 
children 's parents represent some of the dififerent outcomes and social problems 
that this type of mass migration has caused. The beginning of the movie depicts 
Rosetta's and Luciano's family as being destroyed in the process of adjustment 
to the new environment. The reconstitution of a utopian family nucleus, 
composed of Antonio and the children, takes place during their travel southward, 
therefore, the movement away from the environment of Milan is also significant 
of the spiritual and afifective values which signal the characters' growth; it 
becomes a metaphor of the inner space that the characters move through in order 



STEALING HOME: FLIGHT FROM EXILE IN IL LADRO DI BAMBINI 63 



to meet one another. 

However, Antonio, Rosetta, and Luciano arrive at a southern Italy which, 
as we have seen, seems as comipted as the North; stili, it is the place where they 
can begin a process of rejuvenation based on their rediscovery of spiritual values. 
This endeavor is full of contradictions, seemingly so as the end of the movie 
exemplifies. The last scene shows Rosetta trying to encourage Luciano, telling 
him that, most likely, he will be involved in the soccer team at the institution 
where they are going to be assigned. Also, she affectionately puts his jacket over 
him, because of the cold moming. This change in attitude between the two 
children sharply contrasts with the hostility and the physical violence between 
them in the first part of the movie. 

The open ending of the story can be interpreted in various ways. The 
precariousness of Antonio 's house and the unsuccessfiil attempt to assign the 
children to the institution in Civitavecchia indicate that Luciano and Rosetta's 
future in Sicily will not be free of difficulties. But the significant change in the 
children 's perspective is that now they have re-constituted a micro-family unit, 
although Antonio, who represented contradictorily both a patemal and a 
brotherly figure, has been forced to re-enter into his officiai role. At the end of 
the movie he strives not to show any form of affection towards the children. 
"Mind your own business!" is the answer he gives to Luciano's inquiries about 
their future, which reproduces Antonio's non-conunittal attitude atthebeginning 
of the trip. Significantly, at the end of the movie, the carabiniere sleeps in the 
car, while the children are talking about their fiitiu-e. Sleep and drowsiness form 
a parallel with his re-entrance into bureaucratic anonymity, where there is no 
conscience of individuai destinies. 

The director ofStolen Children has discussed the end of the movie and the 
conflicts he felt: "How is it possible," he asks himself, "to conclude the movie by 
depicting a main hero who falls asleep? It looks as if everything has been 
narrated in vain" (D'Agostini). During the same interview Amelio says that 
Antonio "is not able to do more than what he does, because he cannot make it 
by himself' (D'Agostini). Thus, the director seems to imply the necessity of 
collective dynamics, as an alternative value for the marginalized group of Italian 
society. 

This perspective is not limited to the marginalization of the southern 
community emigrated to northem Italy. Amelio is successful in bridging the 
problems of southern Italian people with other phenomena of discrimination 
which are part of contemporary Italian society. In the structure of the movie, 
Rome is charged with a symbolic value comparable to its importance as the 
geographical and administrative center of the country. The capital of Italy is 
described as a magnification of the exclusion processes which victimize Antonio 



64 CARTE ITALIANE 



and the children. The few scenes that take place around the main train station 
in Rome, the Stazione Termini, show a gypsy woman trying to read Antonio's 
palm, and a drunken homeless man, from whom Rosetta steals a few sips of beer. 

The link with other phenomena of discrimination is carried throughout the 
movie. It is significant to note the analogy that Antonio's sister offers to her 
guests, in order to apologize for the disorganization of her house: "We live just 
like the Albanian people," she says, referring to one of the most recent migrations 
which have attempted Italy as a final destination.^ Amelio's interest in the sad 
outcome of the attempted mass-migration from Albania to Italy is confirmed by 
the project of his next film, after Stolen Children, entitled Lamehca, which will 
deal with the shame and guilt that, in Amelio's opinion, the Italian community 
as a whole ought to feel regarding the precarious conditions in which the waves 
of Albanian immigrants are forced to live (D'Agostini). The director maintains 
that "Italy certainly must have had its politicai excuses, but, nonetheless it 
occurred that a people just a few kilometers away from us has remained in a child- 
like position also because of our responsibilities" (D'Agostini). 

It is interesting to note the definition of a "child-like people" used by 
Amelio, which takes us back to the vicissitudes of Luciano, Rosetta, and Antonio, 
and confirms the interpretation of these characters as symbols of the infantilized 
and subordinated position in which the southern Italian community is maintained. 
The movie can be seen as engaging in an implicit dialogic relationship with 
recent social and politicai phenomena that have taken place in Italy. In addition 
to the issues related to Albanian immigrants, another sub-text which is implicitly 
discussed is the development of the separatist movements in northem Italy, the 
Leagues, which have obtained consistent success in the regions of Veneto and 
Lombardy. Their demagogie rhetoric tends to attribute several problems of 
contemporary Italian society to the negative influence of the southern Italian 
community. In fact, the initial proposition of these movements was to separate 
the Italian territory into a northem and a southern part, and, as a result, force the 
southemers who live in the North to go back to their place of origin. It should 
be said that this type of demagogy, as well as the innumerable scandals which 
have involved traditional Italian parties, have paradoxically resulted in a 
consistent success of these separatist movements even outside northem Italy.^ 
For these reasons, several politicai exponents of the Leagues have somehow 
toned down their radicai position. Their discrimination against other groups of 
non-Italian immigrants, African and Albanian, for instance, remains unchanged. 

The movie Stolen Children, on the other hand, depicts a process of positive 
afiìrmation on the part of the three main characters. They re-discover personal 
values inside themselves while traveling towards their place of origin. They 
symbolize ali southem peoples, and ali the immigrants who have chosen Italy as 



STEALING HOME: FLIGHT FROM EXILE IN IL LADRO DI BAMBINI 65 



their new home. Their spiritual growth is a stance against the politicai 
infantilization of southern people, as they invert the spatial movement of the 
emigration from North to South. The end of the process does not signify the 
necessity of recreating a new ghetto, as the separation envisioned by the 
politicians of the Leagues cleariy implies, but the necessity of spiritual groMh 
in contact with the land of birth. 

The theme of emigration, so conspicuous in the structure of the movie, can 
also be analyzed in reference to autobiographical episodes pertaining to the life 
of the director. Amelio himself points out that in this work he vvanted to portray 
his personal life to a greater extent than in previous movies: "Antonio is myself, 
I don't make any efiFort to identiiy myself with him" (Piccini 20). The character 
of the carabiniere in Stolen Children is, therefore, a reference to the director who 
left his birth place in Calabria and moved to Rome. But Antonio shares many 
characteristics with Amelio'sfather who "hadmovedto Argentina. . . emigrated 
because of poverty, and had left wife and children back home" (Aspesi). The 
absence of patemal figures in the movie has autobiographical implications, and 
provides another level of interpretation as a critique of "the uprooting sufifered 
from both fathers and children" (D'Agostini).'' 

In addition to the autobiographical influences and the references to the 
politicai situation of contemporary Italy Stolen Children also establishes a 
dialogic relationship with other Italian works of cinematography. Nicola 
Siciliani de Cumis has compiled a list of defmitions used by movie critics at the 
appearance of the film. Among them are abundant references to the tradition of 
Italian Neorealism, because Amelio 's work shares many characteristics with the 
movies made in this phase of Italian cinema. The director himself points out that 
Stolen Children is notbased on a literary work, but is inspired by a piece of news: 

The paper La Repubblica published a strange, ambiguous picture. Under the 
title "Rape in Milan: A Mother Prostitutes Her Daughter," you could see a little 
girl carried in the arms of a man seen from the back .... The caption said that 
he was a policeman who was carrying the little girl away from the house where 
the crime had been committed (Gili 2). This attitude is common to movies like 
Shoeshine, Open City, and The Bicycle Thief -where the news-quality of the text 
is accompanied by the use of lesser known actors, with relevant roles reserved 
for children. Another important characteristic of Neorealist cinema, maintained 
by Amelio, is the author's determination to depict non-bourgeois characters who 
are capable of feelings, because the upj)er class "is the only one which has been 
legitimized as the depository of the sphere of feelings, which, on the other hand. 
were considered as a luxury for the lower class" (D'Agostini). The refusai to 
portray the life of the bourgeoisie translates into Amelio's choice of the dialect 
inflections in the characters' language. In this movie the director maintains that 



66 CARTE ITALIANE 



he did not derive his idea from Visconti as much as he did in previous works, 
which were often set in the past: "In Stolen Children the point of reference is 
RosseUini, i.e. somebody who takes his inspiration from reality" (Piccini). 

In addition to the references to RosseUini, it is possible to identify other 
Works of Italian Neorealism which enhance the meaning oi Stolen Children by 
means of their interaction as implied sub-text. The first is The Bicycle Thiefby 
De Sica. The evident similarity of the titles — Il ladro di bambini. Ladri di 
biciclette — underlines the analogy between the two main characters, both forced 
into illegality by the social constraints in which they must live. The development 
of the relationship between the father and the son is also reminiscent of the 
affection which grows between Antonio and the children. The restaurant scene 
in Stolen Children, where Antonio treats the children to lunch and lets Luciano 
drink a little wine, reminds the Viewer of the part of De Sica's movie where the 
father decides to spend the last money he has in a restaurant, so that his child will 
have a few moments of happiness. Antonio is also the name of the character of 
the father in The Bicycle Thief, who, like the carabiniere of Amelio' s work, is 
a non-patriarchal figure. Eventually he is protected by his own child, after the 
passers-by prevent his attempt to steal the bicycle. 

La ciociara (Two Women), another movie by De Sica, realized in a later 
phase of Neorealism, depicts a predecessor of the character of the girl. The movie 
narrates the vicissitudes of a mother and a thirteen-year-old daughter caught in 
the turmoil of World War II in Central Italy. The daughter is raped by a group 
of soldiers and becomes the symbol of the condition of dispossessed Italian 
people during the conflict, and of the violence and humiliation they have to 
endure. As in the previous movie taken into consideration, the commonality of 
the name Rosetta, shared by both characters of the young women, permits a 
deeper interpretation of the violence sufiFered by the girl in Amelio's movie. It 
is possible to interpret her as the embodiment of the condition of exploitation 
imposed on southern Italian people emigrated to the North. 

The last film that I would like to discuss in order to shed light on the analysis 
of Stolen Children is Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers), precisely 
the work by Visconti mentioned by Amelio in the comments I quoted at the 
beginning of this essay. Visconti describes a family without a father, which 
emigrates to Milan from the South, and the dissolution of their unity as a result 
of the contact with the new environment. Amelio's work, on the other hand, 
describes a process of intellectual growth, which follows a movement in space 
opposed to the one in Rocco and His Brothers, where a symbolic family is re- 
constituted while the characters move back to their place of origin. We could say 
that Stolen Children represents a continuation of the narrative themes configured 
in the conclusion of Visconti 's movie. In both works, it is the contact with the 



STEALING HOME: FLIGHT FROM EXILE IN IL LADRO DI BAMBINI 67 



metropolis of Milan that induces the dissolution of the family unit. In Visconti 's 
movie the alternative of the land of origin is created in absentia, in the words of 
Rocco, as a place of ancestral purity. His brother Ciro, on the other hand, does 
not delude himself about the difficulties that a hypothetical return to the South 
would present for their youngest brother. 

Once more it is the similarity of the characters' names which helps to form 
analogies of meanings between the two works: the youngest brother of the 
Parondi family is called Luca, etimologically similar to the name of Luciano of 
Stolen Children. The last scenes of the movie by Visconti show Luca walking 
towards a future destiny where the possibility of a return to the South remains 
open as the final destination of a forced exile in which he and his family have been 
involved. The children in Amelio' s movie seem to resumé the voyage, beginning 
at the point where Visconti had left Luca in Rocco and His Brothers. The Italian 
South depicted in Amelio 's movies corresponds to both Rocco 's hopeful 
expectations and Ciro's disillusionment: it is a place where the fairy-tale and the 
magic quality of the contact with the sea can coexist with the realist depiction 
of the environmental disasters of the South. It remains a point of departure where 
Luciano and Rosetta can re-define their relationship and continue their process 
of development and growth.' 

Antonio Idini 

Department of Italian 

University of Arizona 



Notes 

'Due to the limited amount of literature published on this movie in English, ali the 
articles that I have consulted are written either in Italian or in French. Ali the translations 
of quotes from these languages into English are mine. 

^As a result of the recent changes in Albania's politicai climate, a consistent number 
of Albanian people have tried to reach Italy as undocumented aliens. The migration has 
been favored by spatial proximity and by decades of misconceptions propagated by the 
Italian television, which broadcasted across the Adriatic sea the myth of an extraordinarily 
affluent country. The first groups of refugees were accepted and sheltered, often in the 
old Albanian communities that had settled in Sicily and Calabria centuries ago. The 
scarcity of job opportunities in the South has complicated the hope of a thorough 
involvement of these people in the fabric of Italian society, but, nonetheless, the flow of 
immigrants continued increasingly. In the summer of 1991 an overcrowded boat carrying 
approximately 1 ,000 people left Albania in search of asylum. The occupants were kept 
for some time in the soccer stadium of Bari and then the Italian govemment decided that 
they were to be deported to their own country, probably as a gesture meant to discourage 
further attempts on the part of the Albanian people. 



68 CARTE ITAUANE 



'In a recent issue of The New York Review ofBooks W. V. Harris has published a 
good overview of the most recent developments in Italian politics. 

*The movie critic Franco Prono has studied in detail Amelio's previous works, and 
maintains that the conflict between fathers and children represents a Constant narrative 
theme in the artistic production of the director of Stolen Children. 

*I would like to express my gratitude to the people without whom this article could 
not have been possible. My friends Carmen Anolfo, Marco Ippolito, and Antonella 
Panzino have taken time out of their busy schedules to send the majority of the articles 
quoted in this essay from Sassari, Italy. My brother-in-law and friend Mark Longust has 
provided insightful commentary on the text. My warmest thanks go to ali of them, in 
friendship. A special "thank you" with love to my wife Bridgett Longust, who has put 
up patiently with interruptions in her own doctoral work in order to check the quality of 
my translations from French. 



Works Cited 

Aspesi, Natalia. "Solo Italia, per un giorno." La Repubblica [Rome, Italy] 15 May 1992. 
La ciociara [Two Womert]. Dir. Vittorio De Sica. Champion/Marceau/Cocinor/SGC, 

1960. 
D'Agostini, Paolo. "Amelio: ha vinto l'Italia che perde 'E adesso racconterò il mio senso 

di colpa verso gli albanesi'." La Repubblica [Rome, Italy] 20 May 1992. 
De Bemardinis, Flavio. Rev. of "D ladro di bambini." Se^o cinema 55 (1992): 41-42. 
Gili, Jean A. "Entretien avec Gianni Amelio." L'Avant-scène cinema 415 (October 

1992): 1-11. 
Harris, W. V. "Italy: Purgatorio." The New York Review ofBooks. 3 March 1994: 38-41. 
Ladri di biciclette [The Bicycle ThieJ]. Dir. Vittorio De Sica. PDS/ENIC, 1948. 
// ladro di bambini [Stolen Children]. Dir. Gianni Amelio. With Enrico Lo Verso, 

Valentina Scalici, and Giuseppe leracitano. Rizzoli, 1992. 
Piccini, Cristina. "'D ladro di bambini': guardare a Rossellini, raccontare sé stessi; 

Gianni Amelio." Movie 19 (May 1992): 18-20. 
Prono, Franco. "Crisi della paternità e svolta nel cinema di Gianni Amelio." Cinema 

Nuovo 4-5, 1992: 38-41. 
Rocco e i suoi fratelli [Rocco and His Brothers]. Dir. Luchino Visconti. Titanus, 1960. 
Roma città aperta [Open City]. Dir. Roberto Rossellini. Minerva/Excelsa, 1945. 
Sciuscià [Shoeshine]. Dir. Vittorio De Sica. Alfa/ENIC, 1946. 
Siciliani De Cumis, Nicola. "D mestiere del critico." Cinema nuovo 6 (1992): 41-46. 



La perdita della sessualità come 
conquista della donna pirandelliana 



Tutta l'opera di Pirandello presenta fondamentalmente, all'interno di una 
limitata tipologia femminile — moglie, madre, figlia — un unico tipo di donna, la 
« vergine martire »: vergine in quanto senza identità sul piano sessuale, e martire 
in quanto votata all'abnegazione. Paradossalmente, anche — e soprattutto — la 
madre rientra nella categoria: nobilitata dalla maternità, la donna si dedica 
totalmente alla sua creatura, dimenticando la propria fisicità nella gioia superiore 
di questa abnegazione. Come dirà il padre a proposito della madre, nei Sei 
personaggi in cerca d 'autore, « non è una donna, è una madre » (A^ I, 47)' : la 
donna come essere completo e ambivalente cessa di esistere nel momento in cui 
accetta il ruolo sociale a lei destinato. In questo contesto, la negazione della 
propria sessualità è un requisito fondamentale per ogni donna che voglia avere 
un posto, un ruolo, all'interno di una società dove, significativamente, chi 
distribuisce i ruoli e ne riconosce la validità è solo l'uomo. 

Scopo di questo lavoro è dimostrare come la perdita della sessualità 
femminile, un tema ampiamente sviluppato all'interno del teatro pirandelliano, 
da mezzo attraverso il quale la donna può conquistare un ruolo socialmente 
rispettato, diventi lo strumento della conquista di una identità personale e/o 
professionale indipendente dall 'uomo. In ultima analisi Pirandello, che è capace 
di concepire ma non di accettare la donna come creatura ambivalente, fatta di 
spiritualità ma anche di fisicità, non riesce a contenere la potenza della donna- 
natura entro i limiti dei ruoli che invariabilmente crea per lei: la donna sfiigge 
cioè al suo controllo per affermare la propria identità proprio attraverso la 
rinuncia alla sua dimensione più istintuale, fisica, la sessualità. Nonostante 
l 'abbondanza di testi che si presterebbero ad uno studio di questo tipo, la presente 
analisi sarà circoscritta a cinque commedie di Pirandello, scritte tra il 1917 e il 
1932.2 

La « moglie » (in quanto tale e in quanto presupposto necessario della 
madre) senza dubbio riassimie meglio di ogni altra figura femminile le 
caratteristiche della donna pirandelliana ideale, ragion per cui è un personaggio 
assai ricorrente nell'opera di Pirandello: votata ora al marito, ora ai figli, ora ad 



69 



70 CARTE ITALIANE 



altre giuste cause, la donna esiste per gli altri, non per sé, nella più totale assenza 
di coinvolgimenti emotivi che superino i limiti della passione platonica. Ne 
L'innesto la non-sessualità della moglie è sottolineata ulteriormente 
dall'impotenza del marito: dopo sette anni di matrimonio Laura e Giorgio non 
hanno ancora figli. Questo matrimonio doppiamente asessuato è stravolto (per 
Giorgio) e rinnovato (per Laura) dalla violenza subita da Laura ad opera di uno 
sconosciuto. All'interno di questo triangolo tipicamente pirandelliano (l'uomo, 
la bestia e la virtù, di cui L 'innesto presenta una ennesima variazione) è Laura 
che, in nome della vita, riesce ad avere la meglio sul troppo razionale marito. 
Clelia che per Giorgio è un'offesa imperdonabile fatta a lui, più che a Laura 
( « in nessun altro, più che in me — neppure in lei — può essere più vivo e più 
atroce, questo orrore! » {MNll, 401)) per Laura è il mezzo per realizzare la sua 
potenziale abnegazione di madre; e mentre Giorgio sente come una condanna 
l'obbligo alla pietà verso la moglie, perché « ci fosse la colpa, sarebbe offeso 
l'onore; potrei vendicarmi; è offeso invece l'amore! » (401), Laura accoglie la 
gravidanza come un dono, e cercherà con tutte le sue forze di coinvolgere il 
marito in quella che lui chiama la sua « follia » facendo leva proprio sul suo ruolo 
di moglie: 

la ragione non Io sa; forse non può ammetterlo. Ma lo sa la natura, che è cosi! 
D corpo, lo sa! Una pianta — qua, una di queste piante! Sa che non potrebbe 
essere senza che ci sia amore! . . . Neanche una pianta potrebbe, se non è in 
amore! . . . Non sono esaltata! No, mamma. Io so questo: che in me, in questo 
mio povero corpo — quando fu — in questa mia povera carne straziata, mamma, 
doveva esserci amore. E per chi? Se amore c'era, non poteva essere che per 
lui, per mio marito. (415; mia l'enfasi) 

Ed è grazie alla sua abnegazione totale per il marito e per il figlio che Laura 
riesce ad averla vinta, ad avere all'interno del suo sterile matrimonio un figlio 
che, proprio in virtù di questa abnegazione, sarà non più soltanto suo, ma anche 
di Giorgio. Va sottolineato che la forza di lottare per il figlio, che viene a Laura 
dal desiderio di essere madre, acquista intensità anche e soprattutto in quanto 
legittimata dal suo ruolo di moglie innamorata: proprio perché capace di 
annullarsi totalmente nel marito, di farsi come lui la desidera, di essere, in breve, 
« come tu mi vuoi », i suoi argomenti riescono a vincere la diffidenza del marito: 

non ho ragionato, io: io ho amato: io sono quasi morta d'amore per te; mi sono 
fatta tutta tua come nessuna donna mai al mondo è stata di un uomo; e tu lo sai; 
tu non hai certo potuto non sentirlo questo, che ho voluto averti tutto in me; che 
mi sono voluta tutta in te .... (421) 

Il motivo dell'annullamento della donna nell'uomo, che Pirandello svilupperà 



LA PERDITA DELLA SESSUALITÀ COME CONQUISTA DELLA DONNA 71 



ancora in tutte le sue sfumature, è già presente in questa commedia, anche se con 
un tocco di ribellione: Laura si rivelerà infatti, in ultima analisi, più madre che 
moglie — Laura Granatella la definisce « il prototipo della Grande Madre dei miti 
finali » (17) — , e sarà disposta a tutto, anche a lasciare il marito, pur di avere il 
suo bambino. Ma durante tutta la commedia è profondamente conscia del suo 
ruolo di moglie e della forza che esso le dà all'interno del suo matrimonio, ed è 
proprio la potenza della sua dedizione che trasforma il figlio che Giorgio 
considera illegittimo nel flutto legittimo dell'amore di Laura per il marito; Laura 
non distingue tra il suo ruolo di moglie asessuata e quella che Giorgio chiama 
« la tua follia » (421): la sua vittoria morale e sociale (non abortisce e può 
rimanere come moglie a fianco del marito) è frutto della parossistica abnega- 
zione con cui offre al marito « tutta me stessa! perché tu vedessi tutta me stessa, 
tua, nel figlio tuo: tuo perché di tutto il mio amore per te! » (42 1). Laura rirmega 
la maternità come prova chiave della sua sessualità, e la sublima nel dono del suo 
amore per il marito. Negando completamente la propria sessualità, dunque. 
Laura riesce a difendere il suo ruolo di moglie e, conseguentemente, quello di 
madre. Anche se alla fine si mostra più madre che moglie. Laura è motivata 
principalmente dal desiderio di salvare, insieme ali 'amore, il suo ruolo all'interno 
del matrimonio: « non puoi credere ch'io volessi salvare in me chi ancora non 
sento e non conosco. Io l'amore volevo salvare! » (421). 

Sempre di un salvataggio di matrimonio, ma di tutt'altra natura, tratta 
L 'uomo, la bestia, la virtù, dove la sessualità femminile è apertamente messa in 
ridicolo in una versione quasi parodistica del concetto di virtù coiùugale. La 
protagonista femminile della commedia è, nella definizione dello stesso Pirandello, 
« la virtuosa signora Perella » {MN II, 34), ovvero « la virtù, la modestia, la 
pudicizia in persona » (43), contemporaneamente moglie e madre e dunque 
obbligata dai suoi ruoli a negare quella fisicità che è invece testimoiùata in lei 
dalla sua nuova maternità; è proprio per salvare agli occhi del marito e della 
società questa apparenza di virtù che la signora Perella accondiscende a « pre- 
parare la virtù ... per comparire davanti alla bestia », a farsi « un po' di vio- 
lenza!» (60), a tentare il marito nelle vesti di una /emme fatale così da poter 
legittimare la propria gravidanza. È significativo che, tutta truccata, la signora 
Perella non si riconosca più — « non sono più io! » (65) — , perchè il trucco 
nasconde la sua identità di moglie e madre, facendola diventare, « per lui che non 
capisce altro, . . . come una di quelle! » (64; mia l'enfasi). Ma appunto perchè 
improvvisamente fuori dal suo ruolo, l'uiùca reazione del marito è una risata, a 
metà tra il divertito e l'incredulo: 

come ti sei impriastricciata? ah! ah! ah! ah! una bertuccia! ... Ti sei forse 
mascherata così per me? Ah, grazie! No, no, no, no, no! . . . non ne compero! 



72 CARTE ITALIANE 



Senti ... se non vuoi andare a lavarti, non mi seder di fronte, così conciata! 
Mi metto a ridere di nuovo. (66-67) 

Per il marito la moglie perde dunque ogni connotazione sessuale, ed è goffo e 
pietoso ogni suo tentativo di uscire dal suo « personaggio ». L'ironia di 
Pirandello è feroce: la donna può avere un posto nella società solamente se 
rispetta i ruoli che l'uomo (non la donna) ha eletto a base della medesima: la 
« virtuosa signora Perella » è resa tale proprio dal marito che, trasformandola nel 
suo ideale di donna, la investe di una apparenza di virtù che la rende onesta anche 
agli occhi della società, legittimando il suo ruolo di moglie e cancellando quello 
di amante. Il problema del sospetto non si pone neppure, perché è impensabile 
che una moglie-madre possa provare altre pulsioni che non l'abnegazione totale 
per la sua creatura e/o per il marito. In ultima analisi, la donna dopo il 
matrimonio non esiste più in quanto tale, si spoglia della sua proteiforme natura 
per calarsi invece nei ruoli monocromi — ma socialmente accettati — che le 
vengono affidati. Si potrebbe dunque parlare di sconfitta, eppure è vero il 
contrario: la donna ha piena coscienza del posto che la società le affida, ed è 
grazie a questa coscienza che riesce a sfruttare consapevolmente l'unica realtà 
che la società le offre. Pur nella più totale abnegazione, insomma, è capace di 
prevedere in anticipo le richieste e/o aspettative del marito, e di soddisfarle così 
da poter mantenere il suo ruolo nella società. L'uomo è prevedibile in quanto 
agisce in base ai dettami di leggi morali ben definite (in Non si sa come Romeo 
dirà: « le leggi morali . . . per me ci sono ... e le leggi morali sono umane, e 
crediamo anche divine» (MNIV, 1 18)); è proprio questa prevedibilità dell 'uomo 
a permettere alla donna di trasformare la sconfitta della sua sessualità (a cui è 
inevitabilmente costretta da Pirandello) in una conquista sociale e personale. La 
« virtuosa signora Perella », pur cosi fissata nel suo ruolo, riesce a manipolare 
il marito proprio grazie ali 'insospettabilità che le viene da una virtù data per 
scontata.' 

Il potenziale di affermazione personale della donna emerge in maiùera più 
definita nelle commedie più tarde di Pirandello, quelle scritte per Marta Abba, 
dove, all'interno della medesima rete di ruoli e rapporti sociali ben definiti, 
« women are depicted in the throes of a far more fundamental struggle, that of 
establishing for themselves a persona which they can recognize as authentically 
their own » (Caesar 48). È in questa luce che la negazione della sessualità diventa 
il mezzo per la creazione di una identità personale e professionale indipendente 
dal riconoscimento maschile. È innegabile il ruolo avuto da Marta Abba come 
musa ispiratrice delle tarde eroine pirandelliane (e il significato che, alla luce 
del rapporto tra l'attrice e Pirandello, assume il loro totale rifiuto della 
dimensione sessuale: un implicito invito a Marta Abba a fare come loro ....); 



LA PERDITA DELLA SESSUALITÀ COME CONQUISTA DELLA DONNA 73 



tuttavia questo non dovrebbe far dimenticare che la loro superiorità morale 
nonché la loro più matura coscienza di sé ha il suo presupposto già nelle figure 
femminili delle prime commedie di Pirandello. 

Il rifiuto della donna sessuahzzata, della donna amante, assume connotazioni 
di esaltazione mistica ne L 'amica delle mogli, dove viene esasperato e negato il 
concetto di femminilità: la « femmina » non è più una donna, e in quanto tale 
non può appartenere all'universo dei personaggi pirandelliani se non per 
dimostrare la bassezza della propria condizione. È con disgusto che Marta, la 
virginale protagonista della commedia, si scaglia contro Venzi quando dichiara 
che preferirebbe una moglie più sensuale ad una che tenta invano di emulare una 
purezza e verginità che si confanno solo a Marta: 

lo vedo bene, lo vedo bene, come voi vorreste che fosse una donna! Ecco: come 
l'avete ridotta: — una mostruosa vergogna. — D vostro stesso vizio, e niente 
altro! Tant'è vero che ora crede, nella sua inaudita impudenza, anche di poter 
fare a meno di voi! . . . Non sono mica una santa di quelle che fingono di non 
saper nulla, io! Sono cosi, appunto perché so. E Dio m'è testimonio di quanto 
m'è costato di schifo e d'orrore saperlo e vederlo e supporlo tutti i giorni negli 
occhi e nei modi delle donne! Oh Dio, anche delle vecchie! — Avevano una 
faccia. Dio, che poteva esprimere tutto, la gioja se la sentivano, il dolore se lo 
sentivano, la maraviglia d'esser vive: se ne sono fatta una maschera dove è 
dipinta solo una cosa, la più laida: il vizio, l'oscenità! (A^ E, 474) 

Nel suo concitato discorso, la cui natura esclamatoria sottolinea lo sdegno 
di chi guarda dall'alto la misera fisicità dell'uomo (inteso come maschio, come 
« bestia » in opposizione alla virtù della donna), Marta invoca spesso Dio. 
Questo dettagho, altrimenti secondario, stabilisce invece in maniera inequivocabile 
la sua « non sessualità » come scelta consapevole, e la sua netta superiorità sulle 
altre donne, nonché sugli uomini che esse conquistano: donna esemplare in 
quanto puro spirito, negazione della carne, e pertanto sogno — irrealizabile — di 
quanti hanno l'opportimità di avvicinarla, Marta è l'unica che possa permettersi 
di nominare Dio con libertà per dar voce al suo sdegno, perché è l'unica che ha 
fatto della purezza, della verginità monacale uno stile di vita. Ed è in qualità di 
vergine e martire (Marta si dedica tutta — un'altra forma di abnegazione — alla 
riuscita dei matrimoni altrui) che Marta si propone come l'ideale pirandelliano 
della moglie-madre, che risulta superiore all'uomo proprio in virtù della 
coscienza che ha di sé e del suo ruolo: 

una donna, veramente donna, ... il premio che nessuno deve sapere, il premio 
che non si dice: che soffre, in segreto, della gioja che dà, e in questo suo soffrire 
è anche la sua gioja — gioja si, gioja sofferta, da cui nasce ancora la vita? il 
riserbo, la prudenza — quella vera, del cuore che tiene il segreto, perchè ha visto 



74 CARTE ITALIANE 



e sa, sa tutta la vita dell'uomo che gli si confida; e in questo segreto del cuore 
non c'è più bisogno di nulla che stia fuori, allora: né legge, né giudizio degli 
altri; perché può assolvere, in sé, anche un delitto; come condannare, invece, 
quello che gli altri approvano! L'amante e la madre, ramante che si fa madre, 
e che dice dopo, battendo la spalla, come si batte a un bambino: « Ora 
basta; sii uomo: non vedere, in me e in te, questo soltanto! » 

{MN n, 474; mia l'enfasi) 

Nonostante la sua scelta di vita sia conforme in tutto e per tutto all'ideale 
femminile pirandelliano, resta il fatto che è realizzata fuori dal matrimonio, 
dettaglio che pone Marta in aperto contrasto con gli altrimenti ben definiti ruoli 
sociali. Quella che è comunemente accettata — e data per scontata — come la 
realtà femminile per antonomasia all'interno della famiglia diventa nel suo caso 
una scelta consapevole al di fuori del nucleo familiare e, pertanto, sfida: libera 
dalla quotidianità del matrimonio. Marta diventa l'irraggiungibile ideale di ogni 
uomo, un ideale che, per il fatto di essere incarnato in lei (e pertanto reale) nega 
che possano esistere altri modi di essere donna. Nel caso di Marta, dunque, la 
negazione della propria sessualità assume la connotazione di un'aspra critica 
sociale, ed è qui la sua vittoria; nella critica dell'atteggiamento maschile verso 
la donna, vista ora come oggetto sessuale, ora come vergine e martire, ma mai 
come compresenza di questi due aspetti. La sua iniziale sconfitta (Marta dirà 
infatti a Venzi: « me, intanto, perché sono come sono, nessuno mi volle! » (474)) 
si riscatta così nella scelta consapevole — e non nella passiva accettazione, legata 
ad un'imposizione estema — di uno stile di vita che, rivisitato dal suo nubilato 
perde il sapore della costrizione e dà vita a un ruolo che esula da quelli 
tradizionali. Se dunque è vero che Marta vive il matrimonio solo vicariamente, 
è anche vero che è la sola che, in virtù della propria consapevolezza, può 
raggiungere una indipendenza che la mette su un piano più elevato anche e 
soprattutto rispetto all'uomo: Venzi è l'unico che capisce la superiorità di Marta: 
« ma non capisci », dirà a Fausto, « che ce la fa lei la nostra vita? ce la compone 
lei? » (468). Questo aspetto demiurgico del personaggio di Marta è la conferma 
del potere da lei acquisito attraverso la negazione della propria fisicità.'' 

In Diana e la Tuda la figura della moglie-vergine trova espressione in 
maniera paradossale. Tuda è moglie di Sirio solo di nome, perché di fatto il suo 
ruolo nel matrimonio è quello di modella. Questo connubio di fisicità (tradi- 
zionalmente il mestiere di modella evoca l'immagine di una donna equivoca, 
« facile ») e di purezza (come richiede il ruolo della moglie), che trova una sorta 
di correlativo oggettivo dal grande potere evocativo nella creazione della statua 
di Diana, è all'origine del dramma di Tuda: lei che, vita pura (Giuncano la 
definisce « vita! Vita! » (MNl, 257)) desidera in Sirio l'uomo, e non l'artista, 
si piega ad assumere un ruolo che la fissa entro una forma derubandola sia della 



LA PERDITA DELLA SESSUALITÀ COME CONQUISTA DELLA DONNA 75 



sua dimensione sessuale che della vita. Tuda appare cosi doppiamente sconfìtta: 
come moglie (in quanto mutilata nella sua fisicità) e come donna (in quanto 
privata della vita, che viene trasferita da lei a Diana). L'amore che Tuda prova 
per Sirio, e che le fa accettare la sua paradossale proposta, è fiiistrato non tanto — 
non solo — dalla assenza di fisicità nel loro rapporto, ma anche e soprattutto 
dallo sprezzante disinteresse che Sirio dimostra nei confronti di Tuda come 
donna, nonché dalla sua rivalità con Sara. Ma le due donne, che si fronteggiano 
convinte di combattere ad armi pari, si trovano invece su due piani diversi agli 
occhi di Sirio: è Tuda l'unica che ha potere su di lui, un potere che le viene dal 
suo ruolo di modella; ed è come modella che infatti lo tradirà, nell'unico modo 
possibile di ferire, se non l'uomo, l'artista. Ma non è solo grazie al perfido 
influsso di Sara che Tuda acquista coscienza del suo potere su Sirio. Fin 
dall'inizio infatti si dimostra di gran lunga superiore agli uomini (ovvero, agli 
artisti), quando dice a Giuncano: 

eh, posso anche far finta d'essere senza pensieri — per malizia. Combatto con 
gli artisti! Fingo di parlare come a caso; volto il capo un pochino, senza che me 
ne faccia accorgere; lo piego; lo alzo; sporgo appena appena una mano; guai a 
far vedere che sia io, la modella, a suggerire: no: io ho detto anzi una 
sciocchezza; ho fatto un atto, così: il pensiero è nato in loro. E ne sono cosi 
sicuri che me lo dicono: « Oh, sai? sto pensando che . . . codesta mossa ...» 
oppure: « Zitta! mi nasce l'idea di ... ». E io, seria: « Che mossa ...» oppure: 
« Che ho detto? » — Bisogna pure fare così con certuni. Ma con certi altri, no. 
Con questo no, per esempio [allude a Sirio]. (261; mia l'enfasi) 

È Tuda (e dunque la donna) che ha il pieno controllo della situazione: gli 
artisti (ovvero, gli uomini) sono tutti « catalogabili » — anche Sirio — e dunque 
prevedibili. La condiscendenza che Tuda dimostra è dunque fhitto non 
dell'accettazione passiva del suo ruolo, ma della consapevolezza del ruolo altrui, 
oltre che del suo. È proprio questa consapevolezza che sta alla base del suo 
potere, e che mette Tuda in certo qual modo sullo stesso piano, mutatis mutandis, 
di Marta ne L 'amica delle mogli: difatti, anche lei come Marta riesce a rendersi 
indispensabile. Venzi osserva che 

le nostre mogli non possono più fame a meno; sono nelle sue mani, felici di 
starci; . . . non sanno più pariare né vestirsi, né muoversi senza di lei; e ne sono 
gelose, sì, ma tra di loro, appena temono che ella voglia bene più all'una che 
all'altra. E guaj a toccargliela! (A^ II, 468)^ 

La gelosia di Sirio ha davvero molto in comune con quella delle mogli, per quel 
suo desiderio di possesso assoluto che lo rende geloso — si noti — non degli altri 
uomini, ma degli altri artisti. Inoltre, Tuda gli è assolutamente indispensabile 



76 



CARTE ITALIANE 



per finire la statua, e nessun'altra modella può servire allo scopo. Come le mogli 
non riescono più a fare niente senza Marta, così Sirio senza Tuda non sa più 
lavorare; come osserva Giuncano parlando con Sara, 

Giuncano: — fingete di non capire — 

Sara: — che non può più fare a meno di lei? — 

Giuncano: — che ormai non può più finirla, quella statua, se non con lei — 

Sara: — Se è vero ciò che ha sempre detto. . . 

Giuncano: — Ma non è vero niente! E se n'accorge adesso che sente 

mancarsi ... il dono che lei faceva di sé, della sua vita, a quella 

statua! (279) 

La statua è dunque il fulcro di questo paradossale matrimonio, l'unico modo 
per Tuda « di vivere davanti agli occhi di lui » (279). Diana e la Tuda si presenta 
così come una metafora del rapporto coniugale, visto — anzi, sublimato — 
attraverso l^arte. Il rapporto tra marito e moglie si confonde con quello tra artista 
e modella, ma entrambi si risolvono nell'opposizione di vita e forma: Tuda, dopo 
avere accettato di diventare forma, e di darsi così tutta a Sirio (una nuova forma 
dell'abnegazione tipica della moglie) si salva scegliendo la vita che Sirio tenta 
fino all'ultimo di distruggere per sublimarla in una forma morta; alla fine Sirio 
morirà per mano di Giuncano proprio per aver spinto troppo in là il suo sogno 
di perfezione. 

Un aspetto interessante di questo complesso rapporto (non)matrimoniale è 
che, pure entro i suoi angusti limiti e con grande sofferenza, Tuda riesce in certo 
qual modo ad affermare la sua identità di donna (e, indirettamente, anche di 
moglie): di dorma in quanto rifiuta di essere vista da Sirio soltanto come modello 
di perfezione statuaria; di moglie perché la sua fuga mette Sirio di fronte al suo 
bisogno di Tuda. Tuda è costantemente — e dolorosamente — consapevole della 
sua posizione e dell'uso a cui Sirio l'ha destinata, ma accetta entrambi 
coscientemente, in virtù del suo amore e della sua abnegazione; anche nel suo 
caso, è questa consapevolezza che la rende superiore a Sirio, che invece non si 
rende conto né di cosa sta facendo a Tuda, né di ciò che lei sta facendo a lui, 
accecato dalla frenesia di finire la statua. Di lui Giuncano dirà che trasformava 
Tuda nella creta « senz'intenderlo » (279), e che « se n'accorge adesso che sente 
mancarsi tra il pollice e la creta il dono con cui lavorava ... il dono che lei faceva 
di sé, della sua vita, aquella statua! » (279; mia l'enfasi). Anche nel caso di Tuda, 
dunque, si può parlare di una scelta dolorosamente cosciente della dimensione 
« asessuata », scelta che, pur « legata ad una triste realtà di soggezione » 
(Bocchino 132) garantisce a Tuda quella superiore consapevolezza che le 
permette di affermare, in ultima analisi, la propria identità di donna contro 
quella di modella-moglie. 



LA PERDITA DELLA SESSUALITÀ COME CONQUISTA DELLA DONNA 77 



Trovarsi, che riassume in sé molti dei motivi dell'opera pirandelliana, 
presenta la complessa vicenda di Donata Genzi, attrice tormentata in cerca di 
un ' identità, di una vita da vivere in prima persona e non vicariamente, attraverso 
i suoi personaggi. Nel suo caso la scelta finale di restare sola (ovvero di rinnegare 
la recente scoperta della propria sessualità) è complicata dalla sua realtà di 
attrice: per Pirandello infatti il/la vero/a artista non può che seguire fino in fondo 
la propria vocazione e optare naturalmente per la sublimazione della propria 
dimensione fisica in quella artistica. Arte e vita non sono dunque compatibili, 
ma la prima — nettamente superiore all'altra — dà all'artista la possibilità di 
andare al di là della fossilizzata realtà dei ruoli sociali (ovvero, della vita) per 
entrare, attraverso l'arte, in una dimensione più libera. Il destino di Donata 
Genzi, dunque, che è descritta fin dal principio come una vera attrice, è segnato 
fin dall'inizio: l'unica dimensione possibile per lei è l'abnegazione totale per il 
suo pubblico, il rifiuto di esistere altrimenti che come artista. « Un'attrice non 
è più definibile come donna », osserva Salò, non perché reciti anche nella vita 
e si nasconda dietro i suoi personaggi così da sfuggire ad ogni definizione, ma 
perché « la vera attrice ... che "viva" sulla scena, e non che "reciti" nella vita 
. . . [non è] una no; ecco: tante donne! E per sé, forse, nessuna» (MNIW, 134). 
E, davvero, è questo il dramma originario di Donata (Alonge 215), quello di non 
« trovarsi ». Nel primo atto Donata non ha ancora capito che la sua scelta 
professionale di « evadere! Trasfigurarsi! Diventare altri! » (MNW, 140), è la 
vera e unica chiave della sua vittoria come donna. C'è senza dubbio un aspetto 
femministico in questa scelta, che « esprime in pieno l'insoddisfazione e 
l'infelicità specifica delia condizione femminile » (Alonge 215) costretta entro 
gli angusti limiti di ruoli che non rendono giustizia alla complessa natura della 
donna; ma il problema di Donata è appunto questo: la sua scelta di purezza nasce 
come una sfida, dettata più dal desiderio di sfatare l'equazione maschilista tra 
attrice e donnaccia che da una convinzione maturata dentro di sé liberamente. 
Donata reagisce al limitato e limitante concetto maschile dell'attrice, cosicché 
la sua scelta è in ultima analisi sempre detemùnata dall'uomo. E infatti Donata 
sente dolorosamente il peso della sua rinuncia alla dimensione sessuale, che 
crede esserle necessaria per « trovarsi ». Tuttavia, la scoperta che ne fa con Elj 
non appaga le sue aspirazioni, e la vita che scopre con lui non la soddisfa. In 
quanto vera artista, Donata si trova su un piano superiore rispetto alle altre 
donne: non è per lei quella « maraviglia di esser vive » (l 'amica delle mogli, MN 
II, 474) che le altre provano; l'atto sessuale non la arricchisce minimamente: 
« e poi », confesserà a Elisa, « per non provarci in fondo — ti giuro — alcun 
piacere; anzi, se debbo dirti, una vera sofferenza » (A^ IV, 158). E proprio 
perché su un livello più alto non solo rispetto alle altre donne, ma anche agli 
uomini (in questo caso a Elj) Donata non può scendere al compromesso di 



78 CARTE ITALIANE 



diventare « come tu [Elj] mi vuoi », di dedicare la sua esistenza ad un uomo solo. 
Elisa, nel tentativo di rassicurarla, la invita ad avere pazienza e ad aspettare il 
momento in cui imparerà ad amare Elj « con lui »: « quando amerai con lui — 
allo stesso modo e allo stesso tempo che lui — sarà un'altra cosa . . . vedrai... » 
(159; mia l'enfasi). Ma tutto questo non è per Donata, che vive, ancora senza 
rendersene conto, in una dimensione che esclude la sessualità. La sua scoperta 
finale, quella che finalmente le farà trovare la sua dimensione di donna, sarà 
appunto che la vera vita è in fondo proprio quella da cui inizialmente era fuggita: 
il teatro. Nella risolutiva conversazione con Elisa infatti afferma: 

ma credevo, capisci? che appena entrata in una vita mia, subito mi si sarebbe 
chiarito tutto; che sarei uscita, intendo, dall'incerto in cui vagavo prima. Ma 
che! Non è vero! È peggio! . . . [Nella vita] non sei più tu sola, in mezzo a tutto 
questo increato che vuol crearsi e non ci riesce — non sei più Ubera! E allora 
. . . allora dove la vita è creata liberamente, è là, invece, nel teatro! Ecco perché 
mi ci sono sempre trovata subito, sicura — là si! E il vago, l'incerto che sentivo 
prima, non dipendevano dal non avere io ancora una vita mia: ma che! no! è 
peggio, è peggio averla! Non comprendi più nulla se t'abbandoni perduta- 
mente. Riapri gli occhi, e se non vuoi lasciarti andare a tutto ciò che è solito, 
che diventa abitudine, solco, monotonia . . . allora è tutto incerto di nuovo, 
instabile; ma con questo: che non sei più come prima; che ti sei legata. 

(160; mia l'enfasi) 

È interessante che in questo momento di suprema apertura mentale, in cui 
finalmente raggiunge una consapevolezza profonda della propria dimensione 
sia di attrice che di donna. Donata individui l'identità tra solitudine e libertà, 
comprendendo che la seconda può esistere solo insieme alla prima. Viene così 
ribadito il concetto già espresso attraverso il personaggio di Marta (L 'amica 
delle mogli), ma con accenti diversi : per Marta l'alternativa si poneva ali 'intemo 
della vita stessa, tra libertà dal o prigionia nel ruolo di moglie. Donata ha 
invece la possibilità di scegliere tra la monocromia della vita « umana » e 
l'appagante varietà di una vita « sovrumana », quella del teatro, che non solo 
permette di interpretare — e così sconfiggere — ogni ruolo, ma si pone anche 
come unica possibilità di vita vera. 

È con questa scelta finale e definitiva che Donata può finalmente recuperare 
la sua dimensione di donna: dopo l'uscita di Elj dal teatro, infatti, ritrova la sua 
ispirazione e conquista il pubblico ancora una volta; alle congratulazioni che 
riceve come attrice risponde: « ancora dite dell'attrice? No! No! Io mi son 
sentita felice come donna! come donna! Felice di poter ancora amare! Questa 
era la mia vera vittoria! » (171; mia l'enfasi). Cresta vittoria, tuttavia, può 
avvenire solo senza coinvolgimenti fisici (e infatti avviene solo quando Elj lascia 



LA PERDITA DELLA SESSUALITÀ COME CONQUISTA DELLA DONNA 79 



il teatro); ma dì questo ormai Donata è pienamente cosciente, ed è pronta ad 
accettare senza riserve la verità che le si è rivelata nell'incontro con Elj: in lei 
l'attrice coesiste con la donna in un'unità inscindibile (« vera così — come 
sono — io, io nella vita, come nell'arte » (172)), ed è l'arte che ha la meglio sulla 
vita, quando, significativamente rimasta sola nella sua stanza d'albergo. Donata 
inizia a recitare una scena della commedia appena rappresentata: la stanza si 
dilata allora in modo che 

l'arco dell'alcova si sarà schiuso in mezzo e allargato da una parte e dall'altra, 
lasciando in mezzo un vano in penombra come d'una sala di teatro, di cui 
quell'arco cosi allargato venga a figurare come il boccascena di un palcoscenico 
illusorio. (173) 

Non solo, dunque, la vita è teatro, ma il teatro è vita che « sublima l'impulso 
sessuale nell'arte » (Bini, Teatro 56) e perciò è ad essa superiore: l'alcova, il 
simbolo per antonomasia dell 'amore fisico, si trasforma in palcoscenico. L 'ultima 
battuta di Donata — e della commedia — « bisogna crearsi, creare! E allora 
soltanto, ci si trova » è l'epitome della superiorità dell'arte sulla vita, e si pone 
come alternativa alla prigionia dei ruoli cui questa costringe. Così, mentre il 
personaggio interpretato da Donata è « murata, murata, senza via di scampo; in 
questo concetto che tutti si son fatto di me » (174), Donata, forte di una nuova 
consapevolezza di sé come donna e come attrice è libera, finalmente libera di 
crearsi non come un uomo la può volere, ma come lei stessa si vuole. 

Da Laura Banti a Donata Genzi la donna pirandelliana ha subito una vera 
e propria metamorfosi per quanto riguarda la sua capacità di autodefinizione: è 
passata da essere « come tu [l 'uomo] mi vuoi » ad una più cosciente autodefinizione 
che si verifica senza interventi estemi; tuttavia non sembra esserci stato alcun 
mutamento dei parametri entro cui questa definizione può avvenire, che 
rimangono quelli della negazione della sessualità. È evidente che questa 
costante assenza di fisicità è da riportarsi alle fobie di Pirandello in materia 
sessuale, alla sua incapacità di accettare come dimensione vivibile una realtà 
che, facendo « chiudere gli occhi » (la ricorrente metafora di Trovarsi) ottunde 
la ragione; è tuttavia vero che le sue eroine acquistano forza e dignità tragica 
proprio grazie a questa « mutilazione » cui Pirandello costantemente le 
costringe. In ultima analisi infatti, è proprio attraverso la cosciente accettazione 
della negazione della propria sessualità che le sue figure femminili si avviano 
verso la consapevole realizzazione di se stesse, riuscendo così a sfiiggire ai limiti 
della « parte » che sono condannate a sostenere. La donna è sempre capace di 
adattare creativamente il suo ruolo alle proprie necessità, di piegarlo, insomma, 
alle sue esigenze, togliendogli la tradizionale connotazione di un « imperativo 
sociale » da accettare passivamente, e facendolo invece profondamente suo. 



gO CARTE ITALIANE 



È assai dubbio che Pirandello abbia coscientemente scelto di dare alla donna 
una possibilità di riscatto che, mostrandola superiore all'uomo, ha un vago 
sapore di femminismo; Pirandello infatti si identificava in ultima analisi con il 
punto di vista maschilista dei suoi personaggi maschili. D'altra parte è vero che, 
anche se la conoscenza di Marta Abba lo ha certamente influenzato nella 
creazione delle sue eroine, fino dalle prime commedie le donne pirandelliane 
presentano una sorta di « superiore » coscienza rispetto agli uomini che sono loro 
accanto. Tutto questo non fa altro che confermare che il tentativo di Pirandello 
di razionalizzare la donna (e, con lei, la vita), riducendola entro categorie 
accessibili all'uomo « ragionatore » (madre, moglie, figlia, amante) è eroico, ma 
fallito in partenza, perché la donna sfugge ad ogni limitante definizione, e lo 
dimostra facendosi apparentemente « come l'uomo la vuole », ma ricreandosi 
in realtà « come lei stessa si vuole » all'interno della dimensione asessuata che, 
sola, le è concessa da Pirandello. 

Francesca Chiostri 

Department of Comparative Literature 

University of Texas, Austin 



Note 

' D'ora in poi ci si riferisce alle Maschere nude con A^. 

'^L'innesto, (1917); L'uomo, la bestia, la virtù, (1919); Diana e la Tuda, (1926) 
L'amica delle mogli, (1928-29); Trovarsi, (1932). 

'Anche Giorgio, che in Non si sa come passa moltissimo tempo lontano da Ginevra, 
dà per scontata la virtù della moglie proprio come fa il signor Perella, come dimostra 
questo veloce scambio con Romeo: 

Giorgio: Oh, io [le mie scappatelle] non le ho mai nascoste a mia moglie; la 

dovrei stimar stupida altrimenti, da non supporre che stando così a 
lungo lontano .... Si farebbe un cattivo concetto di me! 

Romeo: Mente una donna, eh? deve sapere aspettare! ed è una colpa 

gravissima se non sa aspettare! ... è stabilito e non si discute 
nemmeno! 

"La tragica conclusione della vicenda, che costringe Marta, questa volta per motivi 
diversi, a restare per sempre sola, non deve trarre in inganno. Infatti anche qui la sua 
sconfitta è solo apparente, in quanto permette a Marta di mantenere la sua indipendenza, 
di affermare cioè la propria identità da sola, senza interventi estemi (maschili). La sua 
ultima battuta ribadisce l'idea della verginità come scelta cosciente ( « verginità » intesa 
come assenza di contatto fisico sia sessuale che sociale) : « Insomma, come debbo dirvi 
d'andarvene?— Lasciatemi sola! voglio restar sola! — Sola, — sola, — sola! — » (487). 

*Non solo le donne, però, ma anche gli uomini, sono gelosi di Marta, ed è appunto 
la gelosia di uno di loro (lo stesso Venzi) all'origine della tragica conclusione della 
vicenda. 



LA PERDITA DELLA SESSUALITÀ COME CONQUISTA DELLA DONNA 81 



Opere citate 

Fonti primarie: 

Pirandello, Luigi. Maschere nude. Voi. I-IV. Ed. Italo Borzi and Maria Argenzano. 
Roma: Newton, 1993. 

Fonti secondarie: 

Alonge, Roberto. « Subalternità e masochismo della donna nell'ultimo teatro pirandel- 
liano ». Struttura e ideologia nel teatro italiano fra Cinquecento e Novecento. Ed. 

R. Alonge. Torino: Stampatori, 1978: 200-33. 
Bini, Daniela. « L'ultimo teatro di Pirandello come sublimazione dell'erotismo ». Italica 

(Spring 1993): 46-59. 
. « Procreation Versus Artistic Creation in Pirandello ». Selected Proceedings 

of the Pennsylvania Foreign Language Conference. Ed. Gregorio C. Martin. 

Duquesne U: Department of Modem Languages, 1988-1990: 46-53. 
Bocchino, Magda. « La donna in Pirandello ». La donna in Pirandello. Ed. Stefano 

Milioto. Agrigento: Edizioni del Centro Nazionale di Studi Pirandelliani, 1988: 

127-32. 
Caesar, Ann. « The Branding of Women: Family, Theatre and Female Identity in 

Pirandello ». Italian Studies (1990): 48-63. 
Gioanola, Elio. « Pena di vivere così: la sessualità impossibile ». Pirandello la follia. 

E. Gioanola. Genova: D Melagnolo, 1983: 165-225. 
Granatella, Laura. « Proposta per una lettura del mito matemocentrico come metafora 

dell'atto creativo ». La donna in Pirandello. Ed. Stefano Milioto. Agrigento: 

Edizioni del Centro Nazionale di Studi Pirandelliani, 1988: 11-21. 
Sinicorpi, Giovanni. « The Later Phase: Towards Myth ». Pirandello: A Collection of 

Criticai Essays. Glauco Cam bon. 1967:73-90. 



Holy Alliance: Saint Catherine of Siena and the 
Paradox of Flesh 



Saint Catherine of Siena believed radicai asceticism would bring her closer 
to God. She denied ali bodily needs, among them food, water and sleep. She 
flagellated her body and endured other self-imposed tests of will. Through these 
practices the Saint rebuked the world of corporeality, attempting to conform 
herself to the divine will. Through her asceticism, work and writings, Catherine 
created her own brand of religiosity. Her standards were very different for herself 
than those of the individuals she counseled, but the vision which lay at the 
foundation was the same. Although the practices and beliefs of Catherine were 
common for female medieval mystics, her behavior and rhetoric reveal a distinct 
ideology. Catherinian doctrine is defined through its paradoxical treatment of 
corporeality. Catherine maintained that man must battle physicality at every 
tum; yet only through the suffering flesh of the crucified Christ was salvation 
possible. This ambivalent judgment of body will be explicated through a 
biographical description of the Saint 's ascetic practices, followed by an analysis 
of the theology represented in the letters of Catherine. Both her life and letters 
reflect the ambiguous centrai role flesh played in her ideology. 

The roots of the Saint's radicai piety lie in the events of her childhood and 
adolescence.' On March 25, 1347, Catherine Benincasa was bom along with a 
twin sister, Giovanna. Her mother, Lapa Piacenti, chose to breast feed the future 
Saint and sent her sister to a wet-nurse. This was to become significant. 
Giovanna died, Catherine lived. In a few years, Lapa gave birth to another girl, 
who was named Giovanna after the dead twin (Bell 29-30). As Catherine grew 
up, she lived with a Constant reminder that her sister had died and that she was 
the chosen one, the one her mother had breast-fed. This leitmotif set the tone for 
Catherine's life. 

The Saint's first religious vision, at the age of six or seven, reflected 
Catherine's sense of having been chosen. The story tells that she was returning 
with her brother from an errand outside the city walls: "In the sunset sky . . . she 
saw a loggia full of radiant light; Jesus, robed ali in white like a bishop . . . smiled 
at her. Behind him were several saints, also dressed in white, and a shaft of light, 



82 



HOLY ALLIANCE: SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA 83 



a simbeam, carne from him and fell on her" (Bell 35). At her brother's cali 
Catherine looked away ; when she looked back, the vision was gone, yet not before 
the young girl had seen the light stream from Jesus directly to her. She felt that 
she was to be one with Him. The Saint's reaction might be considered 
extraordinary for a young child; instead of running home and announcing to 
everyone what had happened, Catherine meditated on the content of what she 
had seen, attempting to discem whether it was good or evil (Bell 35). This would 
seem to be an indication that even as a young girl Catherine saw her relationship 
with God as an intensely personal and meditative one. 

After her vision, the young Catherine made a first and lasting decision to 
devote her life to God. The year after it occurred, she took a vow of virginity. 
However, her final conversion to a religious life did not come until Catherine 's 
older sister Bonaventura died. She had been Catherine' s favorite sister and had 
encouraged her little sister to display a bit of vanity and wear pretty clothes. 
Rudolph Bell writes about this in his book, HolyAnorexia: "the older sister made 
Catherine understand that every young woman had a right to adom herself and 
that such beautification was in no way displeasing to God. The girl much 
admired and loved Bonaventura, and under no circumstances could she consider 
her sister's advice sinfìil" (Bell 37-38). Bonaventura had starved herself in an 
attempt to reform her dissolute husband. The fast was successfiil in convincing 
the young man to amend his behavior. Soon after Catherine had agreed to display 
some vanity and beautify herself, Bonaventura died in childbirth. Caroline 
Walker Bynam writes on the significance of these events in the young Saint's 
life: 

Catherine thus had in her beloved sister Bonaventura a graphic illustration of 
the success that fasting could achieve and the dangers of marriage and preg- 
nancy. . . . Furthermore, since one source reports that there was talk later of 
marrying her to Bonaventura's widower, we may also suspect that Catherine 
felt guilty about surviving as a replacement for both her sisters and thus 
determined to substitute for their sufTering rather than for their pleasure. 

(Bynam, Holy Feast 167) 

In these early years, there were already glimpses of the asceticism that the 
Saint would come toembody. Catherine began fasting as child. There are reports 
that she and some playmates secretly flagellated themselves together. There is 
also the tale of Catherine running off to a cave to become a hermit. Nonetheless, 
outward manifestations of piety did not occur until after Bonaventura's death. 

The future saint blamed herself for Bonaventura's death, convinced herself that 
it was her own brief flirtation with worldliness that had brought God's just 



g4 CARTE ITALIANE 



wrath not upon her but upon her sister. Once again, as in her infancy, Catherine 
lived in the place of another. . . . [S]he tumed inward, nneditated deeply upon 
how her sin had brought about the death of someone she loved, and determined 
te bave no more to do with the worid. (Bell 38) 

In an act of penance and self-hatred Catherine cut ofiFher long blond hair; her 
parents, who were intending for her to soon marry, were fiirious. In retaliation, 
they made Catherine assume the role of servant in their house (Letters 32). 

The complete conversion to ascetic practice would occur for Saint Catherine 
when her third sister, Nanna, as she was called, died — the child who had been 
named Giovanna after Catherine's dead twin. On Aprii 18, 1363,lessthanayear 
after Bonaventura had died giving birth, Nanna died from a piagne; Catherine 
was sixteen. At this point, the Saint openly declared her intention never to marry. 
This is a testimony to her personal strength and conviction, as the familial 
pressure for her to marry had increased. Catherine was the last daughter left; her 
parents wanted to use the marriage to secure certain business allies for the 
family's wool-dying enterprise (Bell 39-40). At this point in her life, the young 
Saint made a pact with God; if she would devote her life to him, then he would 
protect her family both in this life and the next one. 

Oppressed with personal guilt over her own survival and the deaths of her 
sisters, [Catherine] achieved inner peace by conceiving in her mind a bargain 
for ali etemity. She would not be a murderer, but a savior: for her twin 
Giovanna, for her beloved Bonaventura, and for little Nanna. The price to be 
paid was ... a life of hard penance and solitude. (Bell 41) 

For a long time, Catherine's family would not accept her choice to renounce 
marriage and a normal lifestyle. They took away her room where she had 
meditated, flagellated herself, and held nightly vigils of sleep deprivation. Her 
family forced her to sleep in her brother's room and to work ali night and day; 
they did anything that they could conceive of to force Catherine to act like other 
girls her age. It is during this period that the Virgin first began to realize the 
power and security of one's own mind. She would later say, "my celi . . . will not 
be one of stone or wood, but that of seLf-knowledge" (Lawrence 287-88). 

[Catherine] could not fight the physical forces brought to oppress her, but with 
sufficient mental effort she would change their meaning. Raymond of Capua 
[Catherine's confessor and first biographer] . . . explains how Catherine carne 
to realize that a private room would be unnecessary if she could construct for 
herself an interior oratory. He recalls ... her advice to him when he had been 
burdened with woridly cares: "Build a celi in your mind from which you can 
never escape." It was as an adolescent that Catherine built her mental fortress. 



HOLY ALLIANCE: SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA 85 



and if . . . she became its prisoner ... the oratory proved impenetrable to the 
world around her. (Bell 42) 

Bell's analysis in the paragraph above is accurate; this period of punishment 
forced the Saint to discover an even deeper personal conviction. Since she was 
no longer able to have physical solitude, Catherine was led to beheve that 
although real solitude could not be found in the physical world, it could be found 
in the depths of one's own soul. 

Finally, her family relented to Catherine's wishes not to be married. Her 
father allowed her to have her room back where she could continue her ascetic 
practices at will. The Virgin commenced a three-year self-imposed exile. 

She subsisted on bread, water, and raw vegetables. She wore only rough wool, 
and . . . an iron chain bound so tightiy against her hips that it enflamed her skin. 
For three years, she observed a self-imposed vow of total silence except for 
confession, and this she maintained even though she lived at home. . . . [S]he 
conquered fatigue and reduced her sleep to as little as thirty minutes every two 
days on a wooden board. . . . Three times a day she flagellated herself with an 
iron chain, once for her sins, again for the living, and then for the dead. . . . 
[E]ach beating lasted for one and one half hours and blood ran from her 
shoulders to her feet. . . . [T]he once sturdy girl . . . lost half her body weight. 

(Bell 43) 

Catherine's desire to suffer was so extreme that nothing could deter her. When 
her mother took the Virgin to the hot springs in Vignoli in order to remove 
Catherine from her self-imposed torture, the Saint flung herself into the pari of 
the canals where the hot sulfuric water flowed into the pool — the bum of the 
boiling waters surpassing the pain of any flagellation. 

Catherine's most frequently discussed ascetic practice is her self-starvation, 
her "holy anorexia."^ Beginning when she was not yet sixteen, Catherine 
restricted her diet to bread, uncooked vegetables and water. The next step toward 
complete rejection of terrestrial sustenance came five years later. 

While dressing the cancerous breast sores of a woman she was tending, 
Catherine felt repulsed at the horrid odor of the suppuration. Determined to 
overcome ali bodily sensations, she carefully gathered the pus into a ladle and 
drank it ali. That night she envisioned Jesus inviting her to drink the blood 
flowing from his pierced side, and it was with this consolation that her stomach 
"no longer had need of food and no longer could digest." (Bell 25) 

In this vision, Christ told her to give up her solitary ways and go forth in the 
company of worldly men and women. This pivotal mystical experience — 



g6 CARTE ITALIANE 



Catherine considered it her "mystical espousal" with Jesus — culminated three 
years of solitude with the epiphany that love for God is intrinsically connected 
with serving others. At this juncture, the Saint started to go out to those in need, 
driven by the unyielding conviction that this was her duty (Letters 2). Although 
her physical isolation then ended, her self-deprivation did not; by the age of 
twenty-five, it is reported that she ate absolutely nothing. 

Her family and friends began to suspect a diabolic trick. Frate Tommaso 
dalla Fonte, her first confessor, insisted that she ignore what he believed was a 
demonically-induced impulse and required that she eat once a day. Although 
Catherine was more energetic when she did not eat, she obeyed his orders. Even 
when she became sick and weak, Tommaso would not relent. He forced her to 
eat until she arrived nearly at death. Finally he accepted the Saint's logie "that 
it would be better to die from fasting than from eating and [told] her 'to do as the 
Holy Spirit suggests you to'" (Bell 25). 

Raymond of Capua, Catherine 's mature confessor, dearest friend, and first 
biographer, believed the Saint capable of surviving without food due to the 
Lord's will. He believed that "divine grace so infiised her body and deadened her 
life fluids that the nature of her stomach was transformed." Raymond wrote: 
"Not only did she not need food, but she could not even eat without pain. If she 
forced herself to eat, her body suffered greatly, she could not digest and she had 
to vomit" (Cited by Bell 25). Bell writes about the strange phenomena of 
Catherine's ascetic regime: 

Certainly her habits were difficult to understand. She drank only a little cold 
water and chewed on bitter herbs while spitting out the substance. . . . [S]he 
seemed about to die at any moment, yet, until the very end, at the opportunity 
to honor God or do an act of charity, and without medicine, she became robust, 
vigorously out walked her companions, and never grew tired — in short, she 
became hyperactive. She took nourishment from the host alone. . . . Raymond 
asked Catherine whether when she did not receive communion her appetite was 
stimulated. Her answer . . . reveals continued mental effort to suppress bodily 
urges ... : "When I cannot receive the Sacrament, it satisfies me to be nearby 
and to see it; indeed, even to see a priest who has touched the Sacrament 
consoles me greatly, so that I lose ali memory of food." (Bell 25) 

However, many of her contemporaries were not convinced that Catherine was 
sustained by this eucharistic piety alone. Detractors accused the Virgin of self- 
aggrandization and said that she ate secretly. Others thought that she should 
heed Jesus' command to his disciples in Luke 10:7: eat and drink that which is 
placed before you. Stili other disparagers shouted: "Who was she to refuse to do 
what Christ on earth, his glorious mother, and the Apostles did? They ate and 



HOLY ALLIANCE: SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA 87 



drank; a truly holy person ought to seek never to be singled out for attention and 
therefore in ali matters follow common customs" (Bell 26). There were also 
those who believed that she was engaged in a symbiotic relationship with the 
devil. 

[T]o demonstrate that she was not possessed, or possibly the even more serious 
charge that she might be a witch, Catherine began to eat once daily and in the 
company of her companions. Raymond of Capua . . . describes her lifestyle: 
". . . her stomach could digest nothing and her body heat consumed no energy, 
therefore anything she ingested needed to exit by the same way it entered, 
otherwise it caused her acute pain and swelling of her entire body. The holy 
virgin swallowed nothing of the herbs and things she chewed; nevertheless, 
because it was impwssible to avoid some crumb of food or juice descending into 
her stomach and because she willingly drank fresh water to quench her thirst, 
she was constrained every day to vomit what she had eaten. To do this she 
regularly and with great pain inserted stalks of fennel and other plants into her 
stomach, otherwise being unable to vomit." (Bell 29) 

Thus, despite the mandate to attempt to eat and digest food, the Virgin could not 
and would not. 

Catherine 's ascetic practices were considered radicai, falling far outside the 
standard practice of her age, even for the most devout. Throughout her life she 
claimed to listen only to her inner conversation with God. Although she made 
concessions in order to disprove her critics' theories about her fasting, in the end 
Catherine retumed to that which she felt was her path. 

[S]he acted in every manner as she said her spiritual bridegroom Jesus Christ 
told her she should, and not as earthly men might order or advise. That she ate 
almost nothing was widely known; such behavior was not only scandalous in 
itself but led some of her contemporaries to believe that she was possessed by 
the devil. Her abstemiousness went far beyond the austere or ritual fasting of 
even the most holy men and women of her day and often was in direct violation 
of the explicit directions of her confessors. Various of these men assigned to 
watch, control, and guide her in her path of holiness (and to protect the Church 
from a possible heretic in its midst) ordered her to eat. For a time she obeyed, 
but the presence of even a mouthful of food in her stomach caused her to vomit, 
and after a while she simply refused. (Bell 23) 

The virgin was true to the ideology she preached: renounce earthly concems and 
listen only to the Word of the Lord — walk with the Savior on road to the cross. 
In January of 1 380, now in Rome, while contemplating Christ' s circumcision 
and his precious blood there shed, Catherine decided to increase her asceticism 
and drink no water. She stili traveled the mile to St. Peter' s each day to spend 



gg CARTE ITALIANE 



hours in prayer. On February 26, the Saint lost the use of her legs, yet one 
biographer claims that she stili managed to arrive at St. Peter' s during Lent. On 
Aprii 29, 1380, starved, dehydrated, and physically ravaged, Saint Catherine 
died. To the end she was faithful to her pledge to follow the crucified Christ in 
every way — she was thirty-three. Dying as she did at thirty-three years, one 
month and four days, it is notable that the Saint did not live longer than Jesus. 
As though it were the conclusion of a macabre novel, the Virgin's death was 
a microcosm of the life that Catherine herself chose. For a woman who lived with 
her physical body as her mortai enemy, it is strangely appropriate that her final 
demise would be rife with physical pain and suffering. Edmund Gardner, one 
of Catherine 's biographers, poetically describes the Virgin's final moments: 

Fearful visions of demons began to assail her, mingling with the celestial 
visitations of her Divine Spouse. Her bodily sufferings became unendurable. 
She cried to God to receive the sacrifice of her life in the mystical body of the 
Church. . . . [rjt seemed to her that the Navicella — the Ship of the Church — 
was laid on her shoulders, and that it crushed her to death. The few weeks of 
life that remained to her were one prolonged martyrdom, out of which we bave 
her last letter . . . full of mystical exultation in her own sufferings, "tanti dolci 
tormenti corporali (so many sweet bodily torments)." (Gardner 65-66) 

"Tanti dolci tormenti corporali" were the matrix from which the personal ethic 
of Catherine was bom. The Saint had believed she could transcend the "earthly 
celi" through pain and suffering. Asceticism had finally yielded the Saint to 
death. 

Catherine not only walked the path of the crucified Christ as she herself saw 
it, but she also espoused for others to do it. She preached to everyone from Popes, 
to the powerfiil Milanese Visconti tyrants, to novice monks. The integrai facet 
of catherinian doctrine was the complete divorce of the individuai from earthly 
concems. For the Saint, the profane world was entirely incompatible with 
conununing with the Divine. Her words are not ambiguous. In a letter^ to a 
young Sienese monk, she wrote: 

My cherished son, we cannot achieve this perfect conformity with Christ 
without complete detachment from conformity with the world. The worid is 
opposed to God and God to the world: they bave nothing in common. This is 
indeed so: we see that the God-Man chose abject poverty, insults, tomient, 
derision, and ridicale, hunger and thirst. He scomed human glory and honor 
and sought always the Father's glory and our salvation. . . . There was no pride 
in him, but rather perfect humility. (Letters 51) 

The Saint's words: "the world is opposed to God and God to the world: they have 



HOLY ALLIANCE: SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA 89 



nothing in common." Her words to the young monk were not equivocai but her 
letter continues and Catherine makes herself even more explicit: 

Oh how deluded they are, these stupid people who are conformed with this evil 
world! Though they seek honors they are disgraced; in pursuit of riches they 
are poor, because they are not looking for genuine wealth; wanting happiness 
and pleasure they find sadness and bittemess, because they lose God, who is 
supreme happiness. They want neither bittemess nor death, but fall into both. 
They want firmness and stability, yet wander far from the living rock. So you 
see, dearest son, how great is the opposition between Christ and the world. 

(Letters 51) 

In Catherine 's vision, Christ is not neutral with respect to the world; it is not 
a passive relationship, but rather the terrestrial realm is an enemy of the Divine. 
This battle was seen as more fierce than any earthly one. Catherine wrote: 

There are many who bave been victorious over a city or a fortress, but if they 
bave failed to conquer themselves and their enemies — the world, the flesh, and 
the devil — one could say they bave nothing at ali. So up. . . . Choose to hold 
fast your lordship over the city of your soul. Fight fiercely against those three 
enemies. (Letters 68-69) 

The Saint saw three evils assail the security of the soul : the world, the flesh, and 
the devil. Catherine encouraged "mortai combat against the physical world"" to 
fight those enemies. 

Catherine cogently encouraged every individuai to whom she wrote to shed 
the concems of this life, to tum to God, and walk in the footsteps of the crucified 
Christ. Her language often phrases the benefits of religious experience in the 
terms of material rewards. The seemingly ubiquitous example of this rhetoric 
is the Word of God as the only nourishment that one needs. Maud EUmann, in 
her book about the links between starving and ideology, writes about the origins 
of this conception and cites Saint Catherine as its chief proponenti 

The belief that words can take the place of food goes back as far as the Old 
Testament, specifically to the famous passage in Deuteronomy 8:3, where we 
are told that God humbled bis people and suffered them to hunger so that they 
might know that "man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that 
proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live." "If you follow this 
truth," Saint Catherine wrote, "you will bave the life of grace and never die of 
hunger, for the Word has himself become your food." (Ellmann 22) 

Food is not the only material concem which Catherine used as a metaphor 
for the bounty of the grace of the Lord. She wrote to one of her closest disciples 



90 CARTE ITALIANE 



that he must clothe himself with the crucified Christ. She pleaded: 

I beg you to fulfiU my desire: conform yourself with Christ crucified. Elevate 
yourself completely above the worid's traffic. ... In no other way can we be 
conformed with Christ. Clothe, clothe yourself with Christ crucified. He is the 
wedding garment that will give you grace, and afterward wiil afFord you a place 
with the truly joyfìil at the table of everiasting life. {Letters 53) 

Not only will the love of Christ provide clothes, but it will provide the ultimate 
vestment, a wedding garment. Catherine geared her language to the individuai 
to whom she was writing. In this case, she was writing to Neri di Landoccio 
Pagliaresi, a young Sienese nobleman and poet who was studying with monks 
in Asciano; by using the term wedding garment, the Saint touches at the heart 
of the life of Pagliaresi, who would soon be expected to return to Siena and marry. 
This manner of individualizing religious metaphors appears in many of the 
Saint's letters. In a letter to Bernabò Visconti of Milan, the tyrant who ruled for 
twenty years and was excommunicated twice for his opposition to the papacy, 
Catherine put a relationship to God in terms which Visconti could have 
appreciated, not agreed with, but understood. She wrote: 

It seems to me, that no man ought to consider or cali himself lord, but rather 
administrator. And this administration is not for always, but only for a time — 
as it pleases our gentle Lord. And if you should ask me, "Then don't we have 
any lordship at ali on this earth?" I would answer, yes, we have the most 
satisfying, most gratifying, most mighty lordship there is — lordship over the 
city of our own soul. Oh, is there anything greater or more magnificent than to 
possess a city in which the all-good God dwells, where peace and tranquillity 
and ali consolation are to be found! So strong is this city and such a perfect 
realm that neither the devil nor anyone else can seize it unless we ourselves 
consent. It is never lost except through deadly sin. . . . [W]e shall keep guard 
over our city and shall master ourselves and the whole world. . . . [W]e shall 
laugh off the worid and ali its pleasures, considering them corruptible and 
worse than dung. {Letters 68) 

Catherine's diplomacy is striking; employing delicate yet trenchant words, she 
subtly chastised a tyrant and suggested that he substitute his vast kingdom for the 
lordship of his own soul. Despite the shrouded rhetoric, the sibilant voice is 
heard: only renouncing the sensual world and assiduously following the path of 
the crucified Christ will yield true wealth. 

Her astute choice of words is also evident in Catherine's letter to the wife of 
Visconti, Regina Beatrice della Scala, a woman described by one historian as 
"the ambitious and able daughter of the despot of Verona. ... [A woman who] 



HOLY ALLIANCE: SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA 91 



'ruled in great part her husband's dominion; she was of an imperious nature, 
proud, and daring, insatiable of wealth'" (Gardner 3 1). Catherine wrote to this 
queen: 

The soul who has fallen in love with God, she who is a servant and slave 
ransomed by the blood of God's Son, attains such great dignity that she cannot 
be called a servant now, but an empress, spouse of the eternai emperor! . . . To 
serve God is not to be a slave, but to reign! For God rescues her from the 
servitude of sin and makes her free. . . . There she is at peace, in perfect rest 
and quiet, for her desires are fulfilled. {Letters 75) 

Catherine intimated that Regina della Scala would not be a real queen until she 
renounced profane concems for sacred ones, becoming the empress of the eternai 
emperor. Catherine gently denounced the queen 's lifestyle: 

I don't want you to be preoccupied with your exalted status, or with wealth and 
pleasure, or with any difficulties or trouble you see coming your way. Let 
neither pleasure nor pain hold you back . . . find your delight in virtue and in 
suffering for Christ crucified. . . . Use the things of this world as nature needs 
them, but not with excessive attachment. For it would be very displeasing to 
God if you were to set your heart on something of less value than yourself That 
would be nothing but a surrender of your dignity. For people become like what 
they love. If I love sin, which is nothingness, I too become a nothing. I cannot 
fall any lower than that. {Letters 74-75) 

The Saint begged Regina della Scala to shed her attachment to the earthly realm, 
to end her nefarious ways which Catherine believed left her outside of the grace 
of the Lord. From these words is gleaned another facet of Catherine's ideology, 
that without the Lord, a human has no real being. As she wrote above: "If I love 
sin, which is nothingness, I too become a nothing." The Saint adopted the 
common medieval conception that humans have no real being without God, 
therefore one must conform to the will of God. The Saint writes on how to attain 
being through God: "If we were to ask that . . . most mercifiil Father [how to 
discover the holy will], this is how he would answer us: 'Dearest children, if you 
wish to discover and experience the effects of my will, dwell within the celi of 
your soul.'" Catherine again: 

we can recognize our own poverty: we see that we are not. For we are not. We 
see that our being is from God. ... In recognizing that we are nothing we 
humble ourselves. And in humbling ourselves we enter that flaming, consumed 
heart, opened up like a window without shutters, never to be closed. 

{Letters 44) 



92 CARTE ITALIANE 



Catherine insisted that there was no being without God and that one could only 
draw closer to Him by looking inward and rejecting terrestrial concems. 
Catherine was unequivocal with those who refiised to relent. She wrote: " If you 
teli me about the great concem you must have over temporal things, [I answer 
that] things are only as temporal as we make them. ... I want you to be 
conscientiously concemed with your attention directed as God would have it" 
(Letters 40). She advocated the path of the disciples who abjured ali earthly 
comforts and looked to God alone for guidance: 

[We must act] the way the holy disciples acted. They took ali spiritual and 
material comfort lightly. . . . [T]hey submitted to every burden and humiliation, 
and to death, for God's honor and their neighbor's salvation. So they were 
separat9d from each other. So they made light of consolation and embraced 
suffering. And this is the way I would have you act. (Letters 39-40) 

Catherine preached for ali to walk in the path of the crucified Christ. She 
admonished: "go the path of suffering, the path of disgrace, derision, torment, 
ridicule, and persecution. It is by such suffering that we become conformed with 
Christ crucified. He is the spotless lamb who scomed the world's wealth and 
power" (Letters 74). In Catherine's words, conformity with God is found only 
within the celi of one's soul. She wrote: 

This is why God's true servants, realizing that the world has nothing in com- 
mon with Christ, try conscientiously to avoid any conformity with the world. 
They . . . become lovers of what God loves and haters of what he hates. They 
have no other wish than to be conformed with Christ crucified, ever following 
in his steps, ablaze with love for true virtue. ... [I]t is good to follow him, to 
remove yourself and cut yourself off entirely from this dark life. . . . IP]ure love 
for God will sever you from it. (Letters 52) 

For Saint Catherine, one could not attain the grace of God without becoming an 
exile from profane concems; one must imprison oneself within the celi of one's 
mind, that intangible part of a himian which she saw communing with the divine 
will. Catherine wrote to an abbess: 

I don't think it is possible to have virtue or the fullness of grace without 
dwelling within the celi of our heart and soul, where we will gain the treasure 
that is life for us ... the holy abyss that is holy knowledge of ourselves and of 
God. . . . [T]his holy knowledge . . . makes us join ourselves with supreme 
eternai First Truth, because we recognize that we ourselves are the basest of 
lies, agents of that which has no being. This hatred will make us proclaim his 
goodness with a cry from the heart: "You alone are the one who is good. You 
are the peaceful sea from which come ali things that have being." (Letters 38) 



HOLY ALLIANCE: SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA 93 



Hence, Catherine implored those to whom she wrote to choose what she 
believed to be the right path: to have real being derived from God, to scoff at 
earthly concems, and to chain themselves to the Love of Jesus and the will of God. 
The Saint viewed the righteous choice not as rehnquishing something, but as 
gaining everything. She often phrased the gifls of the divine love in terms of 
material reward. The exegesis of her letters provide an integrai aspect of the 
Saint 's ideology: those who concemed themselves with the world were not 
choosing profane life now in exchange for divine reward in the hereafter, as a 
layman might conjecture; rather, the Saint saw those individuai as choosing 
eternai death. Her disdainful words have just a shade of pity: 

[T]hat poor wretched soul — who mirrors the carnai pleasures in which he 
wallows like a pig in mud — changes from a p>erson into an animai in that putrid 
avance of his! ... He becomes swollen with pride, and sp>ends his whole life 
seeking honor. And what should be given to serve the poor he spends on 
banquets and a host of servants and well-fed horses. These are the deeds that 
are presented at the moment of death for judgment and justice. He thought he 
was acting against God, but in reality he was acting against himself He has 
become his own judge, and has condemned himself, since he has made himself 
deserving of eternai death. {Letters 57) 

Thus, the man who lived outside the grace of God and busied himself with 
worldly concems became bestiai, less than human. If being was derived only 
from God, humanity was as well; without God's grace and Jesus' love, man was 
nothing more than a swine roUing happily, but foolishly, in his own excrement. 
Catherine wamed those in her flock to avoid this inauspicious demise. She 
wrote: "Let's not be naive: it is the height of stupidity to make oneself deserving 
of death when one could have life. It is up to us, then, to use the freedom we have 
been given to choose life or death" {Letters 57). 

Catherine felt man had been given the chance to choose life or death, grace 
or sin, because Christ was crucified. One must not only try to emulate His path, 
but recognize that this life had been provided by the grace of the Incamation. If 
one obsessed about temporal problems, one rejected the beautiful gift that Jesus 
had given them; one willingly bound oneself to the devil in sin when they should 
have been thankful that the blood of Christ had liberated them. Catherine wrote 
to her brothers: "I . . . beg you to put your hope decisively in God and not in this 
mortai life. I beg you, as ransomed servants, to set your desire and your souls' 
afifection intently on your Savior who has ransomed you" {Letters 63). One 
discems this same motif in a letter to a priest at Asciano whom Catherine felt was 
too involved in the politicai events of his parish. She admonished him: 



94 



CARTE ITALIANE 



Don't make yourself unworthy of what God has made you worthy of^I mean 
the precious blood of his Son, by which you were ransotned with such blazing 
love. We are ransomed servants; we can no longer sell ourselves. But when 
we are in deadly sin we do blindly sell ourselves to the devil. I beg you, for the 
love of Christ crucified; let's get out of such slavery! {Letters 58) 

The Saint pleaded with the priest to free himself from the slavery of profane 
concems and focus on the divine will. The catherinian conception is neo- 
platonic; once one ghmpses the essence of the crucified Christ — that he had 
nothing in this material world and gave up his life to cleanse us — one can take 
no other road but that of the spiritual joumey . The profane world ceases to exist; 
il embodies nothingness; one wants only to commune with divine love. Catherine 
wrote: 

It is an awesome thing to see the good gentle Jesus, the one who rules and feeds 
the whole universe, in such want and need that no one else has ever been as poor 
as he. He is so poor that Mary hasn't a blanket to wrap him in. In the end he 
dies naked on the cross so that he might reclothe us and cover our nakedness. 
Our sin had left us naked, we had lost the garment of grace. So Jesus gave up 
his own life and with it clothed us. I teli you, then, the soul who has discovered 
love in the love of Christ crucified will be ashamed to pursue it in any other way 
than that of Christ crucified. She will not want pleasure, status, pomp, but will 
prefer to be like a pilgrim or traveler in this life, with her attention focused 
wholly on reaching her joumey's goal. 

Catherine believed everyone could be convertedby the power of divine love. 
In a letter to an abbess, she explained: 

[TJf we have not . . . been set aflame by the fire of this holy desire ... I beg 
you . . . let this stone be melted in the hot overflowing blood of God's Son, in 
that blood whose warmth is enough to melt the hardness and frigidity of any 
heart. . . . This is what the Holy Spirit does when he enters the soul. . . . [S]how 
your willingness to be pierced by this sword. (Letters 39) 

This neo-platonic catherinian vie w of divine revelation is abundant in Catherine's 
letters. For the sienese Saint, once one had seen the God-Man on the cross and 
felt his love in being crucified for mankind, one could not help but be pierced by 
the sword of God and want to run and bury oneself in Jesus' wound. From that 
point on, one will have no regard for earthly matters; the only sustenance that 
will be desired will be the divine Logos. Catherine wrote: 

[N]o soul could look at Go''. becoming a man, running to the shame of the holy 
cross, and shedding his blood so profusely, and not draw near, enter in, and be 



HOLY ALLIANCE: SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA 95 



fiUed with true love. This is how we come to take delight in the food in which 
God delights. This is how we leam to enjoy eating ... a food so sweet and mild 
that [it] makes us fat, till we can enjoy no other food. I teli you, here your weak 
teeth will be so strengthened that you will be able to eat big mouthfuls as well 
as small. (Letters 55) 

The catherinian view envisions the crucified Christ as feeding ali of humanity 
through its love and grace, simultaneously cleansing humanity in its blood and 
charity. The crucified Christ is the representation of the divine will accessible 
to the human striving toward God. Catherine wrote: 

I want to see us at the table of the spotless Lamb, who is food, table, and waiter. 
The fruits on this table are the true solid virtues. No other table bears fruit, but 
this one's fruit is perfect, because this table is lifegiving. This table has been 
furrowed, with channels everywhere flowing with blood. But among them ali 
there is one channel flowing with blood and water mixed with fire, and to the 
eye that rests on this channel is revealed the secret of his heart. This blood is 
a wine on which our soul gets drunk. The more we drink, the more we would 
like to drink, and we are never fully satisfied, because his flesh and his blood 
are joined with the infinite God. {Letters 49-50) 

The catherinian devotee drinks the blood of Christ in order to commune with the 
Divine. It is as if Catherine conceived of one literally drinking from Jesus' 
wound as he hangs on the cross, and in so doing, honoring God and saving 
oneself. She wrote: 

[T]he table on which we find this wine . . . [is] the pierced side of God's Son. 
This is the blood that warms, that drives out ali chili, clears the voice of the one 
who drinks it, and gladdens heart and soul. . . . We have taken our example 
from the one who is continually pouring out his blood at this table — and not for 
his own good but for ours. We who eat at this table and become like the food 
we eat begin to do as he does — not for our own good but for God's honor and 
for our neighbor's salvation. {Letters 50) 

Thus, through metaphorically drinking from the wound in humble supplication, 
the catherinian simultaneously honors the Divine and follows in the footsteps of 
the Son of God. 

The idea of Christ feeding the world from his woimd, that is, feeding the 
masses through the Word of the Lord, appears in other medieval writings and can 
in no way be attributed to Catherine alone. Caroline Walker Bynam, in her book 
Jesus asMother, gives a cogent example of this leitmotif in the theological genre. 

The blood that flows from the wound in Christ's side becomes wine, the water 



96 CARTE ITALIANE 



becomes milk; and the soul not only draws nurture from Christ but also flees 
for refuge into the wound in the wall in his body. "Then one of the soldiers 
opened his side with a lance and there carne forth blood and water. Hasten, 
Unger not, eat the honeycomb with your honey, drink your wine with your milk. 
The blood is changed into wine to gladden you, the water into milk to nourish 
you. From the rock streams bave flowed for you, wounds bave been made in 
his limbs, holes in the wall of his body, in which, like a dove, you may bidè 
while you kiss them one by one. Your lips, stained with blood, will become like 
a scarlet ribbon and your word sweet." (Bynam, Jesus as Mother 122-23) 

In the catherinian conception, man who has been ransomed out of slavery to the 
devil by the crucified Christ, can now drink the blood from His wound, be 
illuminated by the Word of the Lord, and take reftige in the wound of the 
Incamation. For Catherine, one must abhor and reject every modicum of sensual 
physical reality except the Divine incamation; Jesus' flesh has provided the 
opportimity for redemption and bumt the path to eternai life. One follows not 
only in the footsteps of the crucified Christ, but drinks His blood, and thus 
becomes conformed with the divine will. The only manifestation of the sensual 
physical reality that has value is the body of Christ on the cross. The one worthy 
manifestation of physicality serves as the model to transcend the earthly realm 
and move on to eternai life; the crucified Christ has simultaneous provided for 
salvation and ofifered the model for attaining it. 

In the final analysis, Catherine's ideology is paradoxical. She lived and 
preached the rejection of physicality and earthly concems in every way, yet she 
believedthatonly the body of Christ ofifered the path to eternai life.' Furthermore, 
it is through the torments of her own physical self that Catherine found spiritual 
enlightenment. While eschewing ali other corporeality, she advocated 
contemplation of the physical nature of the crucified Christ and conformity to 
that exemplum. 

Although Catherine abhorred her own flesh, condemning it as a "dung heap," 
she saw the fleshliness of Christ not as some sort of miraculous protection to 
save US from human vulnerability but as the "way" or "bridge" to lead us to 
salvation through suffering. She even said that the ring of flesh with which 
Christ marries us in the Circumcision is a sign that he is a spouse of our 
humanity. Thus, hateful as body may bave been to Catherine, it was body that 
she saw as uniting us to the body of God. And it united us to God by suffering. 

(Bynam, Holy Feast 175) 

The resin of catherinian ideology is revealed: foUow the example of Jesus, break 
with the world, and you will sit with Him at the table of eternai life. The 
Incamation is the rope which hangs down from the boundaries of Heaven 



HOLY ALLIANCE: SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA 97 



ofifering mankind redemption. In the catherinian theology, man must refuse ali 
other corporeality and focus only on the suffering flesh of Christ. While ali other 
physicality is the portai to sin, Christ' s body is the key to salvation. 
Megan Furth 

Department ofFrench & Italian 
Stanford University 



Notes 

'It should be noted that the events of Catherine's early life have been drawn 
primarily from the hagiography of Raymond of Capua, her mature confessor. Some critics 
have argued that this account is particularly specious. Catherine's mother was the source 
the early biographical information. It has been implied that Lapa embellished to no end, 
given that there was talk of canonization. Regardless, it ali created part of the mythos of 
the Saint whose the mature asceticism was as infamous as it was well-documented. 

^A term coined by the title of Rudolph Bell's book. 

^There are 382 extant letters of Saint Catherine of Siena. Although she did not leam 
to write until the last few years of her life (when she composed her Dialogo), it is believed 
that the letters are authentic. There is a consistent style which characterizes the letters 
ahhough they were composed by various scribes. 

""Paul Vangelisti, UCLA Italian Department, suggested this tum of phrase to me. 

^Related to this, Caroline Walker Bynam, in Holy Feast and Holy Fast, has noted 
that Catherine placed the Incamation, not the Resurrection, at the center of her theology. 



Works Cited 

Bell, Rudolph M. Holy Anorexia. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985. 

Bynam, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Signijìcance o/Food 

to Medieval Women. Berkeley: U of California P, 1987. 
. Jesus As Mother: Studies in the Spirituality ofthe High Middle Ages. Berkeley: 

Uof California P, 1982. 
Catherine of Siena. The Letters of Saint Catherine. Voi. I. Binghamton, NY: Center for 

Medieval and Eariy Renaissance Studies, SUNY — Binghamton, 1988. 
Ellmann, Maud. The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing, Imprisonment. Cambridge: 

Harvard UP, 1993. 
Gardner, Edmund G. Saint Catherine of Siena: A Study in the Religion, Literature and 

History of the Fourteenth Century in Italy. London: J.M. Dent, 1907. 

. The Story of Siena and San Gimignano. London: J.M. Dent,1904. 

Lawrence, C.H. Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in 

the Middle Ages. London: Longman, 1989. 
Misciattelli, Piero. The Mystics of Siena Trans. M. Peters-Roberts. New York: 

Appleton, 1930. 



Dìssimulatìon, Female Embodìment and the Natìon: 
Renata Viganò's V Agnese va a morire 



In her 1949 novel, L 'Agnese va a morire. Renata Vigano presents a female 
protagonist who works as a partisan "staffetta" (a courier) against the Fascists 
and Nazis who have killed her husband. After killing a German soldier, Agnese 
is compelled to take refiige with the partisans in the Padana Valley. As a large- 
sized, middle-aged widow, Agnese might initially seem an unlikely candidate 
for the partisan Resistance. It is by exploiting this tendency to read the surface 
of the body as a manifestation of interiority, however, that Agnese maneuvers 
through the ideological space that eventually characterized German and Italian 
Fascism, namely the classification of certain bodies as abject.' 

Abjection, for Julia Kristeva, is an aversion to the corporeality that has 
historically been associated with the female, matemal body and the struggle to 
separate from it. As feminist and postmodem critiques of the Enlightenment 
tradition have argued, rather than constituting itself, the body is constituted by 
delimiting relations to itself and to other bodies, including politicai bodies. As 
Sidonie Smith observes, the ". . . politics of the body as border/limit determines 
the complex relationship of individuai to their bodies, to the bodies of others, 
to fantasies of the founding subject, and to the body politic" (10). That complex 
relationship also engenders what is perceived as the body. Because the fantasy 
of Enlightenment' s Cartesian male has been transcendence — that is, 
disembodiment, women become the embodied subjects, and, subsequently, 
subject to their embodiment. 

For Agnese, it is her embodied identity as a large, older peasant which 
establishes her marginai position in the body politic, in this case, that resilient 
plebeian spirit of the nation.^ In particular, the manner in which that embodiment 
is read by others allows Agnese to dissimulate her "real" relation to the body 
politic, camouflaging herself and her clandestine activities from the German 
occupiers. As Jean Baudrillard clarifies, "To dissimulate is to feign to not have 
what one has. . . . Thus, feigning or dissimulating leaves the reality principle 
intact: the difference is always clear, it is only masked" (5). What is masked by 



98 



DISSIMULATION, FEMALE EMBODIMENT AND THE NATION 99 



Agnese's dissimulation is her real relation to the body politic: her identity as a 
partisan. 

However, Agnese's relation to the body politic is more complex than the 
simple masking of one reality with another. On one level, her relation to the body 
politic is tautological. In as much as Agnese can be understood to be the body 
politic incarnate, any relation of hers to that body is redundant. On another level, 
Agnese's relation to the body politic is not redundant but precarious, for "the 
cause," i.e., the Resistance, demands the abrogation of the self. Through 
Agnese's requisite, patriotic self-sacrifìce in service to the Resistance, the self is 
elided. For although Agnese is physically distinct from the other partisans, her 
allegiance to the cause will ideally render her indecipherable from the other 
partisans. 

For Antonio Gramsci, this elision of the self is necessary in times of war and 
revolution.' Indeed Vigano has Agnese espouse just such an "ethics of 
sacrifice."^ However, for Agnese this self-abnegation coincides with an abject 
reading of femininity. As such, any reciprocity which might exist between 
Agnese and the body politic is askew in favor of the latter. Moreover, Agnese's 
proclivity to dissimulate will be manipulated by the Resistance which will exploit 
that dissimulation to its own ends. 

Agnese's identity is, in a sense, indecipherable even before she joins the 
Resistance. Working as a washerwoman, Agnese dissimulates her identity by 
already seeming to be what she was not: "Verso la sera l'Agnese raccoglieva il 
bucato già secco ... [e poi] andava verso la casa; . . . Passavano i ragazzi che 
scendevano alla pesca in valle: le dicevano ridendo: - Buonanotte, carro 
armato!" (Vigano 23). That Agnese's physical embodiment evokes militant 
images harkens to more than the pervasiveness of war in the consciousness of 
even Italian children. The children's comment, which is clearly meant to tease 
Agnese, is nevertheless apt. Working as a courier for the Resistance and as a 
peasant washerwoman, Agnese indeed has a dual identity. Furthermore, the 
analogy of domestic service to warfare foreshadows the domestic, matemal 
assistance she will ofifer the partisans, to the extent that she denies herself food 
and sleep for their sake. 

The comparison of Agnese to a tank also intimates that Agnese will become 
a "fighting machine" in a more traditional, masculine sense. Yet, Agnese's 
transformation from humble peasant to partisan is not so disjunctive as it may 
seem. As the description of the killing of the German soldier suggests, Agnese's 
skills as peasant washerwoman, and her identity as a woman, bereaved of her 
husband, translate into an ability to kill: 



100 CARTE ITALIANE 



Kurt, il soldato grasso, si era addormentato con la testa appoggiata al brac- 
cio. . . . Allora [l'Agnese] prese fortemente il mitra per la canna, lo sollevò. 
Io calò di colpo sulla testa di Kurt, come quando sbatteva sull'asse del lavatoio 
i pesanti lenzuoli matrimoniali, carichi d'acqua. (Vigano 54) 

Agnese's strength as a washerwoman and her ability to kill are then intricately 
connected. Because Agnese is representative of the body politic in general, her 
actions are illustrative of the fact that the passage from peacefiil peasantry to 
guerrilla resistance is not so far. In stili another way the children's leasing is 
suggestive. Similar to a tank, Agnese succeeds in moving through the German 
occupiers. As such, this reference to Agnese's embodiment augurs both her 
ability to cpmbat and her ability to dissimulate her relation to the body politic. 

Owing to her physical and gendered characteristics, Agnese is not 
immediat€;}y perceived, nor does she perceive herself, as more than marginally 
positioned with regard to the war and its politics. As she explains to the partisans 
who first approach her about the Resistance, "Mio marito ne parlava, ma erano 
cose di politica e di partito, cose da uomini. Io non ci badavo" (Vigano 21). And 
even when Agnese begins woricing with the Resistance after her invalid husband 
Palita is deported and dies in a German transport, her embodiment continues to 
seemingly position her on the borders of the body politic. By dissimulating her 
partisan activities, Agnese is able to be a part of the partisan Resistance while 
remaining under the noses of the Germans who have occupied la Minghina's 
house, the neighbor who, along with her husband and two daughters, collaborated 
with the Germans and caused Palita's deportation and death. 

Through her dissimulation, which manipulates the Germans ' own prejudice 
against certain types of embodiment, Agnese hoodwinks the Germans at their 
own game. Not wanting the Germans to occupy her house, Agnese uses the space 
of her body to dissuade them: 

Un maresciallo venne dritto alla porta, guardò dentro. L'Agnese non si mosse, 
stava seduta con le gambe larghe e la gatta in grembo. Cosi grossa, sembrava 
prendere tutto il posto nella cucina, che non ci fosse più spazio per un passo. 
D tedesco guardò un poco, poi disse: - Qui niente bono, - e voltò le spalle. 

(Vigano 51) 

And when the Germans move into la Minghina's house next door: "I tedeschi 
non le badavano: agitavano le mani all'altezza della fronte e dicevano: - Matta. 
Vecchia brutta e matta, - e le ragazze [di Minghina] ridevano" (Vigano 52). 
Whereas before Agnese "non badava alla politica," the Germans now fail to pay 
attention to the politics of Agnese. As a result, the Germans are handicapped by 



DISSIMULATION, FEMALE EMBODIMENT AND THE NATION 101 



their reductive and abject reading of Agnese which clearly converges on the 
snrface of her body. 

In allowing herself to be read as merely "vecchia brutta e matta," and 
therefore innocuous, Agnese dissimulates her real intentions. Her ability to do 
so far exceeds the capabilities of the male partisans: "il suo aspetto duro e pacifico 
non attirava i tedeschi, non si interessavano di una vecchia grossa contadina, e 
lei passava tranquillamente in mezzo a loro, avevano sotto il naso quella sporta 
e non pensavano di guardarci dentro" (Vigano 23 1). Her ability to dissimulate 
is due in part to the stereotypical assumptions made on the basis of her 
embodiment and her demeanor. But, as we will see, Agnese 's ability to 
dissimulate also gestures to the desire by both the Germans and the partisans (and 
Vigano herself) to read Agnese's embodiment and actions allegorically. 

Agnese is herself well aware that she is considered, at the very least, a large- 
sized woman. The narrator retums repeatedly not only to describe how Agnese ' s 
body is perceived by others but to how she experiences it herself. When Agnese 
first joins the partisans after having killed the German soldier Kurt, she recalls 
a time when she and her husband Palita went to the city to visit a famous doctor. 
Agnese recalls that "si vergonava di muoversi in mezzo alla gente" (Vigano 63). 
On that occasion, even the doctor misreads Agnese's embodiment by mistaking 
her for Palita's mother rather than his wife: 

- Suo figlio ha avuto una grave malattia, signora. Se l'è cavata bene. Con 
un po' di riguardo può vivere fino a novant'anni. Moriremo prima di lui, 
signora -. Come rideva, Palita, per lei che era diventata rossa! Tutti e tre 
avevano riso per l'equivoco, e il dottore s'era scusato. Un dottore cosi bravo 
certo non si sbagliava. Palita doveva vivere fino a novant'anni, se non ci fossero 
stati i tedeschi. (Vigano 63-64) 

The doctor's misunderstanding is telling; he not only misreads Agnese's identity 
and her relationship to Palita, but he fails to foresee the advent of the war and 
therefore misdiagnoses not only Palita's fates but Italy's fate as well. While the 
doctor's misreading of Agnese's embodiment surely foreshadows a similar 
misreading by the Germans, the misreading of Agnese's body is also linked to 
a misreading of the nation's body, alluding to how the one body will come to 
signify the other. 

Repeated reference to Agnese's large size, her wide face, her massive hands, 
her muscular thighs, her heavy, strained heart together form a motif of 
embodiment. However, throughout the text, particular emphasis is given to 
Agnese's hands. After becoming a courier for the partisans, she is asked by one 
ofthem. 



102 CARTE ITALIANE 



- Chi credete che abbia dato ai fascisti il nome di vostro marito? - e intanto con 
il pollice segnò verso la parete in direzione della casa della Minghina. - Si, - 
rispose l'Agnese. - L'ho pensato subito. Se ne fossi sicura ... - Strinse con 
violenza le sue grandi mani sciupate contro l'orlo della tavola. Un bicchiere 
pieno si rovesciò. - Allegria! - dissero i compagni, guardando colare il vino. 

- State tranquilla, lo sapremo. Chi è stato, lo « facciamo fuori » -. E il più 
giovane accenno l'atto di tirare il collo a una gallina. L'Agnese capì, non le 
parole, ma il gesto, e questa volta sorrise, improvvisamente, con serenità. 

(Vigano 22) 

That Agnese understands not the words but the gesture indicates both her affinity 
with the partisans, and her difference from them. While it is unclear whether 
Agnese does not understand the expression "fare fuori" and is therefore 
hnguistically alienated from the partisans, she clearly understands their gesture 
or action. Its semiotic significance easily translates from a peasant vemacular 
to a military one, stressing again the affinity between these two groups. 

It is not insignificant that "azione" is the Italian word that indicates a 
partisan military operation. Agnese's own action in this passage: "Strinse con 
violenza le sue grandi mani" and the partisans' proclamation, "Chi è stato, lo 
'facciamo fuori,'" are together both profetic and transformative. Ultimately 
those "grandi mani" kill the German soldier Kurt. Agnese thus indirectly enacts 
the partisans threat to "fare fuori" the informants for, in reprisal to Kurt's death, 
the Germans kill la Minghina and her family. As a result, Agnese's "grandi 
mani" achieve their vendetta to avenge the death of Palita and in the process they 
transform her into a partisan. 

Agnese's hands are again the narrator's focus when they capture the 
attention of the partisan company she has joined: 

D partigiano del paradello si piegò in avanti, remando. Disse: - Ma come hai 
fatto, compagna? Gli hai sparato? - L'Agnese afferrò per la canna il mitra che 
Clinto teneva fra le ginocchia, lo sollevò, rispose: - Io non so sparare. Gli ho 
dato un colpo cosi -. Fece l'atto, poi rimise piano piano il mitra sul sedile. La 
sua vecchia faccia era immobile, contro il chiaro dell'alba. Tutti, nella barca, 
guardavano quelle grandi mani distese. (Vigano 58-59) 

This passage also illustrates both Agnese's difference from and similarity to the 
partisans. Part of that difference is due to the physical strength and ferocity that 
reside behind the guise of a "vecchia grossa contadina." While Agnese's 
embodiment dissimulates her identity, it also, as in the case of her hands, ofifers 
a due to her potential as a partisan soldier. 



DISSIMULATION, FEMALE EMBODIMENT AND THE NATION 103 



If we compare the description of Agnese' s hands, repetitively described as 
"grosse" and "grandi," to the one mention of the partisan leader's hands — the 
hands of the Comandante, his appear much more fragile and delicate than 
Agnese's. When a group of partisans become trapped in their barrack by the 
frozen marsh waters, the Comandante and a few partisans add a metal prow to 
a boat in order to break the ice and bring supplies to the barrack: 

Era un lavoro pesante: col freddo e i colpi le mani sanguinavano, quelle del 
Comandante più degli altri, non erano abituate al ferro, al martello. Aveva la 
pelle sottile, si screpolava, si tagliava: su quelle mani appena un po' scure per 
il sole, ma lisce, il sangue si vedeva più rosso. (Vigano 182) 

As a lawyer from the city, it is not surprising that his hands are so delicate; his 
hands, like his body, are clearly imlike Agnese's, unaccustomed to heavy, 
manual labor. And though the Comandante and the partisans suffer physical 
pain anddeprivation, though they persevere under dire conditions, it is significant 
that the text displaces the bulk of embodiment onto Agnese; she becomes the 
repository of embodiment for the Resistance movement as a whole. 

As Judith Butler contends regarding the Enlightenment tradition, masculine 
disembodiment is possible only through the compulsory embodiment of women: 

By defining women as "Other," men are able through the shortcut of definition 
to dispose of their bodies, — a symbol potentially of human decay and transience, 
of limitation generally. . . . From this belief that the body is Other, it is not a 
far leap to the conclusion that others are their bodies, while the masculine 'T' 
is the noncorporeal soul. The body rendered as Other — the body repressed or 
denied and, then, projected — reemerges for this "F' as the view of others as 
essentially body. Hence, women become the Other, they come to embody 
corjxjreality itself This redundancy becomes their essence. (133)' 

Viganò's text is nothing if not redundant regarding embodiment as Agnese's 
defining characteristic. Although Agnese manipulates her embodiment and 
exploits other' s reading/misreading of it, she is inarguably textualized as more 
fiill-bodied than the others. 

Viganò's portrayal of Agnese's involvement in the partisan Resistance 
parallels the development of the involvement of partisan women in the Italian 
Resistance begiiming in the fall of 1943. According to Victoria de Grazia, 

70,000 women were in the Women 's Defense Groups and 35,000 were troops 
in the field. In addition, thousands of other women hid and cared for Resistance 



104 CARTE ITALIANE 



fighters and disbanded foreign soldiers, assisted Jews on the run from Nazi- 
fascist police, and protested Italian men from being conscripted for forced labor 
service. Forty-six hundred women were arrested, tortured, and tried, 2,750 
were deported to German concentration camps, and 623 were executed or 
killed in battle. (274) 

Renato Giancola, the author of La donna italiana dalla resistenza ad oggi, also 
estimates that at least 35,000 participated in the Resistance and that the 
cooperation of these women began with aid to the disbanded, to ally prisoners and 
to partisan soldiers. However, it is symptomatic of the cultural prejudice that 
casts women militants in the role of matemal or uxorial care-givers that this 
publication by the President of the Council of Ministers falls prey to a similarly 
gendered rhetoric. Stating that women partisans began by offering "aid, 
recovery, and support" to the male militia, Giancola then adds "le madri italiane 
vedevano il proprio figlio in balia della tempesta scatenata dalla guerra" (12). 
The slippage from a discussion of women partisans to the figure of the Italian 
mother erroneously assumes that ali women partisans were mothers. In contrast 
to this presupposition, it is implied that Agnese is not a mother (Vigano 166). 
Nevertheless she is repeatedly referred to as "mamma Agnese" by both the 
partisans and the Germans, and, of course, the famous doctor who misdiagnosed 
Palita. 

As such, embodiment cuts both ways for Agnese. On the one hand, the 
predisposition to read a person's embodiment in order to limit her identity or 
potential identity to her most ostensible physical characteristics is what enables 
Agnese to dissimulate and thus aid in the Resistance. On the other, the gender 
ideology which transmutes "woman" into "mother" is the same that early, 
twentieth-century German and Italian nationalism foisted onto women. 
Embodiment thus empowers Agnese and disempowers her by imposing on her 
a constricted identity.* The slippage by which ali women become mothers — that 
quintessential example of embodiment — conceals a masculine prejudice against 
the femininity which embodiment signifies. Therefore, my intention here is not 
to Champion the dissimulation of the female body and thereby risk the uncritical 
celebration of the displacement of women. Rather, Agnese exemplifies how 
dissimulation and compulsory female embodiment in a society and in an 
intellectual tradition that cherish disembodiment connote an ambivalence 
toward femininity. 

Viganò's own text hints at a certain contempt of femininity, or certain 
characterizations of femininity such as that of la Minghina, and her two 
daughter, whose fates are sealed by their collaboration with the German 
occupiers. As the partisan Clinto details, "[I tedeschi] li hanno ammazzati a 



DISSIMULATION, FEMALE EMBODIMENT AND THE NATION 105 



baionettate: erano come delle bestie. A una delle ragazze piantarono la baionetta 
nella gola, e poi giù, fino in fondo alla pancia," (Vigano 75).^ Here the 
collaboration of Italian nationals with the Germans is displaced onto these 
women, and onto a symbolic feminine whoring, willing to exchange one's body, 
and one's neighbors for safety.^ 

Other examples of Viganò's own ambivalence toward femininity include 
the casting of the Germans in the role of perverse femininity. For example, in 
characterizing the Germans' excited states as feminine and hysterical — a 
symptom which has historically been identified with femininity, and by having 
a virile female as her protagonist, Vigano display s, if not an intolerance, at least 
an ambivalence toward certain supposed manifestation of femininity. The 
femininity that Vigano embraces as being redemptive for the nation and its future 
is not unlike the femininity propagated by Fascism, a femininity in service of the 
state. Indeed Agnese only sanctifies herself and her womanhood through 
complete selflessness, thereby distancing herself from what is perceived as abject 
femininity.* 

Yet, paradoxically, as she abrogates her femininity and its embodiment for 
the sake of the Resistance, Agnese and her embodiment also personify the 
partisan Resistance, that portion of the body politic which dissimulates its 
identity and presence in the face of the oppressor in order to subvert it. As such, 
the body politic is allegorized as an androgynous female, one who combines 
traditional and non-traditional feminine characteristics. For on the one hand, 
Agnese is childless, fearless, mentally and physically strong and hard — in short, 
virile; on the other, she is matronly, heavy-set, and she cries and moums — 
although less than other women and less than some of the men. She is then 
ambiguously gendered for she denotes fecundity and virility, femininity without 
lack. In this sense, Agnese is the phallic woman, who by being both feminine 
and phallic, i.e., culturally empowered, allows for the synthesized of divergent 
components. By integrating woman ' s proclivity to embodiment with a prejudicial 
cultural tendency to configure politicai resistance as masculine or phallic, 
Agnese, as the phallic woman, can figure as the ideal concrete embodiment of 
the abstract or disembodied body politic. 

Agnese 's identity as both the body politic incarnate and abject female 
embodiment makes her presence a particularly disruptive one for that presence 
is duplicitous. Here, Judith Butler's observation that the body presents "a region 
of cultural unruliness and disorder" (13 1) is extremely trenchant. For Agnese, 
only in death will her "unruly and disorderly" embodiment finally be contained. 
This occurs when Agnese is eventually recognized as the murderer of Kurt by a 
German ofiTicial: 



105 CARTE ITALIANE 



D maresciallo gridò ancora: prese la pistola, le sparò da vicino negli occhi, sulla 
bocca, sulla fronte, uno, due, quattro colpi. . . . L'Agnese restò sola, 
stranamente piccola, un mucchio di stracci neri sulla neve. (Vigano 239) 

Butler's aphorism regarding the body's unruliness proves doubly tnie for ihe 
capacious body of an Italian peasant woman who, in the midst of a war to control 
the resistant body of the Italy peninsula, comes to symbohze thatbody. 

In a sense, Butler's assertion and Agnese's fate also provide an legend to 
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's following claim regarding women's diffìcult 
relation to nationalism: 

Women can be ventriloquists, but they have an immense historìcal potential 
of net being (allowed to remain) nationalists; of knowing, in their gendering, 
that nation and identity are commodities in the strictest sense: something made 
for exchange. And that they are the medium of that exchange. (803) 

Vigano illustrates the excision of the feminine from national arena both with the 
novel's very title and denouement: Agnese va a morire, and through Agnese's 
mutation into a generic symbol of the Resistance and the nation. 

In addition to its literary merit, Agnese va a morire is also imporlant as an 
example of neorealist Resistance literature written by a woman about Italian 
women in the Resistance. '° Not only did Vigano participate in the Resistance as 
the director of health services for the Communist guerrilla units in the area 
around Ravenna (Traldi 288), she chronicled the contribution of other women 
in Donne della resistenza. However, while Viganò's work can be said to 
document women's contribution to the Resistance, her texts also participate in 
the mythologizing of the Italian Resistance. 

Italian neorealism itself contributed to this mythologization. Although it is 
usually associated with anti-Fascist literature and cinema, some of neorealism's 
earliest examples in Italy were not anti-Fascist but sympathetic to Fascism." 
Similar to Fascism itself, neorealism then drew from both the left and the right 
of the politicai spectrum. As such, its putatively objective critique was usefiil to 
both politicai persuasions. On the one hand, neorealism was embracedby writers 
sympathetic to Fascism who saw neorealism as anti-rhetorical and activist, 
which seemed to parallel Fascism 's critique of the politicai and social climate in 
the 1930's (Ben-Ghiat 157). On the other, neorealism's status as a criticai 
literary style also appealed to those wishing to critique Fascism itself. Yet, as 
Ruth Ben-Ghiat points out, in the period immediately following World War II, 
there was a need to purged neorealism of its Fascist past and to claim its origins 
in "the anti-Fascist revolution" (Ben-Ghiat 158-59). One effect of this national 



DISSIMULATION, FEMALE EMBODIMENT AND THE NATION 107 



disavowal was that it permitted neorealism and post-war Italy to reiterate, 
wittingly or unwittingly, the rhetorical and politicai tropes of Fascism. '^ 

Both Fascism and anti-Fascism share a stake in Italy 's national identity. 
Vigano 's text illustrates how that investment in national identity depends on 
certain abject and manipulative readings of the female body, which either 
suppress the feminine, masculinize it or oflen project it as an ideal national 
identity. For ali its worthy qualities as a women's history, Vigano 's text 
obftiscates, even as it demonstrates, the gender inequity that permeates the 
battleground. 

Carolyn Daly 

Comparative Literature Program 

University of Southern California 



Notes 

•See Victoria de Grazia, How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy 1922-1945, on Italian 
Fascism's attitudes, policies and rhetoric regarding gender. Also George Mosse, 
Nationalism and Sexuality, Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on 
the Origin and Spread of Nationalism; and Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics 
of Difference. As Mosse and Young point out, "The idea of the unified nation . . . 
depended precisely on opposing manly virtue to the heterogeneity and uncertainty of the 
body, associating despised groups with the body, setting them outside the homogeneity 
of the nation" (Young 111). While Germany's National Socialism carried to greater 
extremes the classification and abjection of certain body types, Italian Fascism's 
misogynist public policies together with its nationalist impulses implicate it as well. 

^Lucia Re makes a similar observation in Calvino and the Age of Neorealism 1 Io- 
li?. 

'See Lucia Re on Gramsci's "ethics of sacrifice" (349). 

"•This is the case throughout the text but in particular see Agnese's explicit 
pronouncement on personal sacrifice in the context of the larger cause of the Resistance 
(Vigano 228-29). 

^Quoted in Smith 1 1 . 

*As Judith Butler points out: "Discourses of embodiment [which include the 
valorization of motherhood, and its glorification as a patriotic duty] also mark woman as 
an encumbered self, identified almost entirely by the social roles concomitant with her 
biological destiny. Affiliated physically, socially, psychologically in relationship to 
others, her individuality [is] sacrificed to the 'constitutive definitions' of her identity a 
member of a family, as someone's daughter, someone's wife and some's mother" 
(Introduction to Feminism as Critique, quoted in Smith 12-13). 

'While Augusto, la Minghina's husband, is killed along with his wife and daughters, 
he is portrayed as an inept male, conditioned by his wife and daughter. Furthermore, the 
four of them are referred to as "delle sgualdrine e delle spie" (Vigano 75), a characterization 



108 CARTE ITALIANE 



that, by the use of feminine nouns, reinforces the association of Minghina, the two 
daughters and Augusto with femininity. 

*Re notes that the portrayal of sexually promiscuous women as collaborators is a 
topos of neorealist Resistance literature (118). 

"Tramed through embodiment, the 'proper' woman remains subject to man's 
authority and theorizing because, if unmanned and misaligned, she will subvert the body 
poiitic. To the extent that woman represses the body, erasing her sexual desire and 
individuai identity while embracing encumbering identities in service to family, community, 
and country, she positions herself as proper lady who surmounts her negative identification 
with the body through selflessness" (Smith 16). 

'"Alberto Traldi, Fascism and Fiction: A Survey ofitalian Fascism on Fascism and 
its reception in Britain and the United States 288-90. Also see Silvia Spellanzon, 
"Renata Vigano Poeta popolare" 794-99. 

"See Ruth Ben-Ghiat, "Neorealism in Italy, 1930-50: From Fascism to Resistance" 
155-129. Lucia Re's discussion of the question of neorealism's roots in the German Neo- 
objectivism (Neue Sachichkeit) is also helpful (16-18). Finally, Marcia Landy, Fascism 
in Film: The Italian Commercial Cinema, 1931-1943, makes an analogous argument 
regarding Italian neorealist film (4). 

'^ucia Re gives an example of this citation of Fascism in neorealist texts in her 
reading of Aldo Vergano's 1946 film, // sole sorge ancora (1 18-19). 



Works Cited 

Anderson, Benedici Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of 

Nationalism. New York: Verso, 1992. 
Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. "Neorealism in Italy, 1930-50: From Fascism to Resistance." Romance 

Languages Annual 3 (1992): 155-59. 
Butler, Judith. "Variations on Sex and Gender: Beauvoir, Wittig and Foucault." 

Feminism as Critique: On the Politics of Gender. Eds. Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla 

Cornell. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987. 
de Grazia, Victoria. How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922-1945. Berkeley: U of 

California P, 1992. 
Giancola, Renato. La donna italiana dalla resistenza ad oggi. President of the CounciI 

ofMinisters: 1975. 
Kristeva, Julia. The Power of Horror: AnEssayonAbjection. Trans. L.S. Roudiez. New 

York: Columbia UP, 1982. 
Landy, Marcia. Fascism in Film: The Italian Commercial Cinema, 1931-1943. Princeton: 

Princeton UP, 1986. 
Mosse, George. Nationalism and Sexuality. New York: Fertig, 1985. 
Re, Lucia. Cahino and the A gè of Neorealism. Stanford: UP, 1990. 
Smith, Sidonie. Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body: Women 's Autobiographical 

Practices in the Twentieth Century. Bloomington: Indian UP, 1993. 



DISSIMULATION, FEMALE EMBODIMENT AND THE NATION 109 



Spellanzon, Silvia. "Renata Vigano: Poeta popolare." Letterature moderne (nov.-dic. 

1961): 794-99. 
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. "Acting Bits/Identity Talks." Criticai Inquiry (1992) 770- 

803. 
Traidi, Alberto. Fascism and Fiction: A Survey ofitalian Fascism on Fascism and its 

Reception in Britain and the United States. London: Scarecrow P, 1987. 
Vigano, Agnese. Donne della resistenza. Bologna: S.T.E.B., 1955. 

. L'Agnese va a morire. Turin: Einaudi, 1982. 

Young, Marion Iris. Justice and the Politics ofDifference. Princeton: Princeton UP, 

1990. 



Pirandello's Wheelbarrow: 
A Revenge on Imagology 



Carlo Michelstaedter was already considered one of the brightest minds of 
his generation by the time he was twenty three. This was also the year he 
completed his tesi di laurea, and after having submitted it, retumed home and 
took his own life. Ten years earlier Nietzsche died. 

The one and only time Pirandello mentioned Michelstaedter — as Daniela 
Bini points out — was in an interview for Quadrivio only a month before his own 
death; he referred to him as an example of those unhappy thinkers who 'wanted 
to make forni and substance coincide absolutely and in every instance and were 
overwhelmed.' With this statement Pirandello recognized an affinity on a basic 
philosophical point: the contradictoriness of life whose essence is flux but that 
must be fixed if it is somehow to be grasped. It must give itself a form. This 
form, however, is death; it stops the life that it tries to define. Pirandello shares 
this belief with Michelstaedter, but considers the pursuit of such coincidence 
(of 'forni and substance') totally inane, insofar as it has only two possible 
conclusions: suicide, as in the case of Michelstaedter ... or madness, as in the 
case of Nietzsche. (Bini 62) 

When a reader first comes across Pirandello's notion of the "sentimento del 
contrario" explicated in L 'Umorismo, one has to be willing to enter into a 
dialectic in which the criteria for objective reality is surrendered. Each and every 
time a situation appears to have been clarified a new series of reasonings emerge 
which contradict the very clarification previously attained. This "feeling of 
contradiction" represents the vulnerability which ubiquitously manifests itself 
within the image/images we hold of ourselves and of others, as well as the image/ 
images others have of our own person and of themselves. This apparent theory 
of relativity in which a person's mind becomes the measure of ali things is not 
however the point of arrivai for Pirandello's extravagant brainstorming. Nor is 
Pirandello the pessimist we have heard about and read about for almost a century . 

Pirandello goes well beyond a mere recipe for relativity as he also goes well 
beyond surrendering to issues of identity and truth. He has told us that the truth 



110 



PIRANDELLO'S WHEELBARROW: A REVENGE ON IMAGOLOGY 1 1 1 



is concealèd, hidden, it eludes us by means of a brief glimpse allowed upon it, 
perhaps it even energizes a certain flirtation with death, it alters itself without 
any regard for the tempora! or the spatial, and then again, it becomes cx)ncealed. 
Pirandello 's truth is not one which finds tranquility in the prescriptions of the 
medicai sciences, nor is it an issue to be resolved in the laborious attempts of 
uncovering the various layers which make up its constitution. The individuals 
which fili his pages cannot be cured by prying nor can they be assisted by being 
forced to confront their illness. Their world and the truth inhabiting it must be 
left alone, unrevealed and unsolved. 

What does one do, however, in a world where this is not the case, in a world 
where we are forced to confront not only our perception of our being but the very 
perceptions others have created of our being. What are we to do the very first time 
we realize the incongruencies constituting our person? How is it posssible that 
ali these images of our being ali belong to one person hearing one name received 
at birth? These are the questions for which Pirandello lifled his pen. 

Precisely what does Pirandello 's pen teli us? This: that the lack of coherence 
between the various images thrust upon a person does not necessarily yield 
infertility or the need to abandon oneself. On the contrary, implies Pirandello, 
it is the mulitiplicity of images interacting with one another that allow for neh 
fertility. Pirandello gives life to the very process which allows us to identify the 
fi"agmentation of our feelings, therefore ourselves, and then provokes us into a 
creative frame of mind in which a static world can potentially be transformed into 
one of multi-faceted possibilities. 

How does this process begin for Pirandello? The direction he takes in the 
exploration of what constitutes truth (even if an objective one has been 
surrendered), and more importantly the role of man's consciousness 
regarding the images of truth, appears to privilege the circumstances at hand. 
What is truth? How do individuals perceive truth? Will confrontations, rules, 
documents provide truth? These are the questions which captiu^e our attention. 
Alone, however, such questions cannot be held responsible for retaining and 
promoting one's inquisitiveness. Methodology must always and already 
accompany the development of the investigation. 

In tradition with modem thinkers beginning with Kant, Pirandello diligently 
displays the view that life is in a Constant state of flux and that man's attempts 
to somehow bring this flux to a halt separate him from the naturai course of life. 
To insist on the construction of a definitive form, of a single clarification, would 
be the equivalent of denying the range of possiblities with which Pirandello 's 
narrative grabs our attention. This, however, is exactly what happens to most 
of US. Our identity is constructed by a series of compromises between our 
perception of the self and the perception others have of our being. Once we find 



112 CARTE ITALIANE 



a role for ourselves which appears to fimction within our surroundings we 
embrace it and in time this constnict solidifìes. The crisis arises when we are 
faced with the arbitrariness and randomness with which this construct was 
formed. 

The acknowledgement of the possibility of a self-nothingness mastered 
by autonomous image productions (the random compromises constituting 
our being) is brought to Ught in the short story "La carriola," in which a lawyer 
suddenly becomes aware that his family, his occupation and even his own name 
have become foreign. The lawyer realizes that for himself he has not been, he 
has been only for others. 

Io vedo non ciò che di me è morto; vedo che non sono mai stato vivo, vedo la 
forma che gli altri, non io, mi hanno data, e sento che in questa forma la mia 
vita, upa mia vera vita, non c'è mai stata. (Novelle 312) 

The lawyer also knows, however, that he cannot reverse the images which have 
been projected upon him and which have ali along guided the events of his life. 
The abyss which separates the extemally projected images thrust upon him on 
behalf of his family and profession and the images which he would like to hold 
for himself create a vacuum in which the feeling of contradiction is self-evident. 
It is out of this abyss that the lawyer finds a way to counter-attack the fate which 
he no longer controls and perhaps never did. Everyday, in total privacy, the 
lawyer takes the hind legs of the family 's dog into his hands and walks around 
the desk in his office. In this non-sensical act, the protagonist is able, for a few 
brief moments everyday, to break away from the images which have thus dictated 
his life. 

Adriano Tilgher writes: 

But in man, no matter how uncouth, life splits in two: even to the most uncouth 
of men it is essential to be and to know that he is , to live and to know that he 
lives. In man, life has projected and detached from itself as its own opposite 
something that Pirandello calis the feeling of life and that I would cali, in 
philosophically strìcter terms, consciousness, reflection, thought. In such 
detachment, with the attendant delusion of assuming as objectively and 
extemally existing reality this mutable inner feeling of life, there lies the first 
cause of human misery. For once it has detached itself from life, the feeling of 
life (or consciousness as we may cali it) by filtering through the brain tends to 
cool off, to clarify and idealize itself; from the particular, changeable, ephemeral 
state it was, it will eventually crystallize into a general, abstract idea (see 
Pirandello' s essay "L'Umorismo" [in the hook of the same name], second 
cdition, pp. 168fr.). (Tilgher 21) 



PIRANDELLO'S WHEELBARROW: A REVENGE ON IMAGOLOGY 113 



These ideas which individuals crystallize will forni the barriers from which they 
will observe and understand life's images. From these images individuals then 
proceed to construct truth. Precisely from the probability that there lacks an 
awareness of one's own fictions and images, Pirandello tums to the written word 
in order to develop the unrealities of characters, thus individuals. Again, we 
must caution ourselves from categorical relativity and we are encouraged to enter 
into the domain of image-production. "Pirandello had long asserted the 
necessity of fictions in the process of self-creation," states Caputi, "but he had 
not previously pondered so intently the implications of living with fictions 
created with a full awareness that they are fictions."' 

Pirandello's methodology relies on progressive development precisely 
because its own scafifolding agrees with the temporal flux. As conditions change 
so does the image-production. Pirandello' s text constructs the dialectic between 
time and image and simultaneously is at its service. The scaffolding, comprised 
of characters and their language games, survives for its own subjectivism. The 
lawyer is aware of his fictitious being and he goes on to revenge himself against 
those fictions. Thomas Harrison states it diligently: 

The real obstruction to life cx;curs not when consciousness recognizes the 
distance between itself and the images by which it lives, but when these images 
reveal themselves to be no longer its own, when they take on a logie ali their 
own, becoming autonomous and neglecting the volition of the character they 
ostensibly served. (Harrison 194) 

Pirandello has no interest in creating a hierarchy in which one image validates 
itself more than another. What is significant is the very notion that we are so 
intimately involved with the totality of image-production. Pirandello fiiels the 
process in which image A is contradicted by image B resulting in a third 
possiblity, image C. Just as we are part of the world around other individuals, 
the process calls for a coming to terms with others' perceptions of the world. 

Pirandello's text provokes a process of self-realization which already 
possesses the ubiquitous discrepancies existing within our self-perceived image 
and the images of ourselves projected upon us by others. Pirandello captures each 
and every one of our image-productions through a character who remains passive 
until the final scene; when he does act he does so in his office, almost alone, 
confirming his own alienation. 

One, willingly or not, breathes life into the possibilities of ten separate 
images when he or she walks into a room in which there are nine other people, 
the tenth image being the one each of us holds for ourselves. The concem of our 
protagonist relates solely to the dog and the image it holds of the master is 



114 CARTE ITALIANE 



essentially inconsequential. Vitangelo Moscarda of Uno, nessuno e centomila, 
published in 1926, sufifers from the same ailment as our lawyer, but Moscarda 
seeks revenge actively and socially while our sileni honorable citizen does so in 
the privacy of his office. 

n titolo del romanzo illustra la filosofia dell'autore: l'uomo è uno, cioè quello 
che egli crede di essere, e nessuno, perché non riesce ad adattarsi alla forma 
che gli altri gli danno o che cerca di darsi lui stesso. Centomila sono le diverse 
forme che le diverse persone gli danno. Dunque questo è un romanzo sulla 
« forma », e contiene teorie presenti in molte opere teatrali. Moscarda vuole 
mostrare di non essere ciò che gli altri ritengono che sia, e la sua rivolta contro 
il mondo, da lui operata per provare che l'opinione altrui era sbagliata, lo porta 
a scoprire sé stesso. (Valentini 132) 

Moscarda searches for the one image underlying the thousands of images 
resnlting in yet another manifestation of nothingness. The lawyer searches for 
an image which negates the presence of the thousands of images surrounding 
him. This in timi allows him to manifest a certain something which has meaning 
for his being and only his being. Moscarda is unable to achieve even that. 

Per sé, Vitangelo Moscarda è nessuno. L'io è infatti essenzialmente un essere- 
per-l'altro. Ma, per realizzarsi, questa coscienza nella quale si afferma la 
singolarità deve essere consapevole in tutti; questo senso dell'alterità, questo 
sentimento della finitudine di ciascuno, del limite individuale e del rapporto 
vicendevole, in cui si effettua il rispetto del singolo, e quindi la sua valorizzazione, 
deve essere pienamente consapevole. Invece tra gli uomini avviene esattamente 
il contrario. E questo è il dramma dell'essere in cui l'identità dell'io finisce 
con l'affogare.^ 

Both characters are conscious of their own multiple image production. The 
possibility of the lawyer being a "someone" which will confirm one image 
(identity) over another is always presumed and already surrendered. The 
possibility of Moscarda discovering a "self' which is not reducible to that which 
others see yields the nessuno, the nothingness of it ali. Valentini writes 
regarding Pirandello's characters: 

I suoi personaggi sono sempre influenzati da ciò che egli chiama il « sentimento 
del contrario ». Ogni qualvolta sembrano esserci sufficienti ragioni per credere 
qualcosa, sorgono ragioni egualmente buone per credere la cosa opposta. 

(Valentini 1 1 ; cf L Umorismo) 

Pirandello's characters lead the spectator into an abyss filled with un-realities of 
perceived images and possiblities of not yet perceived image-productions. Once 



PIRANDELLO'S WHEELBARROW: A REVENGE ON IMAGOLOGY 115 



the exploration has begun does it become plausible to search even fiirther, for the 
possibility of symmetries and asymmetries constituting our relation to that which 
surrounds us. However, it is often the opposite efifect which takes place. We 
prefer to pursue some fixed notion of our being resulting in a denial of the many 
selves which even the mirror reveals through its limited powers of reflection. 
Milan Kimdera phrases the problematic in the foUowing way: 

A person is nothing but his image. Philosophers can teli us that it doesn't matter 
what the worid thinks of us, that nothing matters but what we really are. But 
philosophers don't understand anything. As long as we live with other people, 
we are only what other people consider us to be. Thinking about how others 
see US and trying to make our image as attractive as possible is considered a kind 
of dissembling or cheating. ... It's naive to believe that our image is only an 
illusion that conceals our selves, as the one true essence independent of the eyes 
of the world . . . our self is a mere illusion, ungraspable and indescribable, 
misty, while the only reality, ali too easily graspable and describable, is our 
image in the eyes of others. And the worst thing about it is that you are not its 
master. First you try to paint yourself, then you want at least to influence and 
control it, but in vain: a single malicious phrase is enough to change you forever 
into a depressingly simple caricature. {Immortality 127) 

With respect to the dialectic between living and seeing oneself live, between 
mastering our images and being mastered by them, we feel compelled to build 
our own text. Otherwise we take the chance of falling into the dilemma which 
can be categorized by Kundera's definition of fate; "there comes a moment when 
the image of our life parts company with the life itself, stands free, and, little by 
little, begins to mie us" {Art ofthe Novel 128). 

The nature of our involvement as a reader is determined by Pirandello's 
ability in provoking us to identify with the conditions of the « sentimento del 
contrario ». Harrison writes. 

In opfxjsition to the "common Lie" by which the reality principle enforces its 
univocal and monocular visions, Pirandello proposes an "explicit and declared 
tolerance of dissension and contrasf' (L 'Umorismo 1 55). In the aesthetics of 
perplexity "each image, each group of images evokes and attracts contrary 
ones, and these naturally divide the spirit, which, in its restlessness, is 
obstinately determined to find or establish the most astonishing relationships 
between the images" (L'Umorismo 141). (Harrison 207) 

It is Pirandello's pen which draws us into this topsy-turvy world of odd 
wheelbarrows. It is Pirandello's humor that allows us to feel the revenge the 
lawyer experiences in that dictatorial act which somehow revenges his stolen 



116 CARTE ITALIANE 



individuality. Who has not, on many occasions, pensively pondered acts which, 
to the realm of that conventional reality we ali succumb to, would appear totally 
incommensurable. To say it with Pirandello, 

In certi momenti di silenzio interiore, ... ci sentiamo assaltare da una strana 
impressione, come se, in un baleno, ci si chiarisse una realtà diversa da quella 
che normalmente percepiamo, una realtà vivente oltre la vista umana, fuori 
delle forme dell'umana ragione. (L'umorismo 160) 

The disparity of behavioral codes cannot be required to bear the weight of 
rationalistic and conventional expectations and most certainly cannot fall silent 
to them. It is precisely to the alleviation of such heaviness that Pirandello has 
raised his pen and given an artistic voice, perhaps not always an operatic voice 
but certainly one that echoes and echoes and echoes. 
Richard Collins 
Department ofitalian 
University of California, Los Angeles 



Notes 

'Caputi 93. Caputi emphasizes the particular treatment of consciousness achieved 
in this play, a consciousness which was previously unparallcled in Pirandello' s fiction 
and plays. Of innovative quality is the "stage-by-stage layering" of awareness reflecting 
the full state of consciousness. 

^Croci xxvii. See the introduction by Giovanni Croci to Pirandello's Uno, nessuno 
e centomila for criticai analysis of the active role Moscarda undertakes in treating the 
consciousness of his self-perceived images and the images perceived by others. 



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PIRANDELLO'S WHEELBARROW: A REVENGE ON IMAGOLOGY 117 



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The Entrance of Beatrice in Dante's Purgatorio: 
Revelation, Duality and Identity 



In Cantos XXIX and XXX of his Purgatorio, Dante-poet sets up and then 
presents what has generally been considered to be the "climax" of his Divina 
commedia: Dante-pilgrim's long-awaited reunion with Beatrice. Of course the 
entire poem, from Canto I of the Inferno, has been in a sense a "set-up" leading 
to this moment, but in these cantos Dante, like any good showman, steps up and 
concentrates the sense of anticipation and of revelation, pushing them to the 
highest levels seen thus far in the poem. 

Canto XXIX presents us with a pageant, a processionai "masque," to use 
Dorothy Sayers' characterization (303), a sort of heavenly medieval sacra 
rappresentazione; yet this functions as a prologue, a ritual preparation or "warm 
up act" to the "main event" of Dante's meeting with Beatrice in Canto XXX, 
rather like the lavish ritualized processionai that precedes a bullfight. 

Fascinating as this procession is, with its neh visual symbolism and 
complex allegorical elements, I have chosen in this essay to focus on the first part 
of Canto XXX, the actual entrance of Beatrice, and Dante's initial contact with 
her: it is the moment in the poem when Dante's personal drama is suddenly and 
finally unveiled. With its direct appeal to the emotions and its dramatic 
effectiveness, it reveals elements of a modem "profane" drama in Dante in 
contrast to the sacred allegorical drama which has led us up to it. 

Using this passage (approximately the first half of Canto XXX) I hope to 
investigate, with the help of a variety of commentators, how Dante's unique 
manipulations of language and poetic structure express the idea of transformation 
and the underlying theme of duality, which are so fiindamental to this moment 
in the Commedia. Within this context I also wish to discuss the meaning of 
seeing or vision for Dante, as well as the issues of identity and personalization, 
issues which are cruciai not only to this passage but to the entire poem. 

The idea of Dante-pilgrim's transition in this part of the Commedia from a 
physical to a spiritual perception of his world (also seen as a transition from the 
realm of the rational to the realm of faith, or from a personal to a universal 
orientation) has been discussed by several commentators. Francis Fergusson 



118 



THE ENTRANCE OF BEATRICE IN DANTE'S PURGATORIO 119 



proposes that "the break between reason and faith, nature and the supematural, 
Comes with the flash of light" (185), referring to the moment in Canto XXIX 
when "un lustro subito trascorse/ da tutte parti per la gran foresta,/ tal che di 
balenar mi mise in forse" (16-18), and further characterizes the halting of the 
procession in front of Dante — the moment immediately prior to the start of Canto 
XXX — as "the point of intersection between time and etemity."' Similarly, in 
the commentary of Umberto Bosco and Giovarmi Reggio, Dante's meeting with 
Beatrice is seen as a "rapporto (o 'ponte') tra umano e extra umano" (508). 

Most conmientators point to this sequence as the moment in which both the 
poem's protagonist and the poem itself undergo a transformation from a 
relationship to their universe as something physical, observable, recordable and 
rational to a new perception — or revelation — of that universe as something 
which can only be truly understood, truly "seen" on a spiritual, super-rational, 
extra-human (or "transhuman") and faith-based level. In verses 7 through 9 we 
are given one of the many figures of this kind of transformation: "la gente verace,/ 
venuta prima tra '1 grifone ed esso,/ al carro volse sé come a sua pace . . . ." In 
tuming to the chariot (which variously figures the Church and the Advent of 
Christ) "as to their peace," the "truthful people" are accepting as theirs the will 
of God, just as Dante-pilgrim's free will "tums to" or is transformed into God's 
will. Moreover, the fact that the chariot is at this point physically empty, yet 
nevertheless is the focus of attention of the entire procession, visually expresses 
the concept of faith in the unseen. Dante-poet, up to this point an observer and 
reporter of ali these events, will very soon become a participant, an inseparable 
part of the racconto on a profoundly personal level. He will become, in a way 
he has not been before, a character in his own drama. 

Here the idea of transition can of course be read on another, theatrical level: 
as the first entrance of one character and the simultaneous final exit of another, 
the "changing of the guard" from Virgil to Beatrice. As Charles Singleton 
observes, Dante neatly expresses this transition in verse 2 1 : "Manibus, oh, date 
lilla plenis!" ["O, give me lilies with full hand!"]. On its literal level, Singleton 
notes, it is "an utterance of the welcoming angels," casting flowers for the arrivai 
of Beatrice. Yet it is significantly a quote from Virgil's ovmAenied (VI, 883), 
the context being "Anchises' prophecy of the premature death of the youth 
Marcellus" (Singleton 735). The sense of untimely demise parallels the sudden 
disappearance of Virgil from Dante's poem, giving the verse a dual significance 
as "both a farewell to Virgil and a welcome to Beatrice" (Singleton 740). 

William Vemon, calling this "the choicest line in the choicest passage of 
Virgil's great work" goes so far as to "ofiFer the opinion that this is the moment 
when Virgil vanishes ..." (506). The search for such pinpoint precision (another 
commentator even defines the interpolated "oh" in the verse as the exact point 



120 CARTE ITALIANE 



of Virgil ' s vanishing) clearly seems beside the point. What does seem significant 
about Virgll's exit is that it is not physically seen by Dante, but discovered after 
the fact, much as the precise moment of Beatrice 's appearance is left somewhat 
ambiguous, occurring as it does "dentro una nuvola di fiori" (28), her presence 
being felt before it is actually seen. 

If, to extend the theater analogy, we see the universe of Dante 's Commedia 
as a great stage, then Virgil slips unnoticed ofiFstage while our attention is 
cleverly diverted to the visual splendor of the "cloud of flowers" effect, which 
serves in tum to veil Beatrice' s entrance. DaniQ-commediografo has carefiilly 
scripted his comedy so that his two guides never appear on stage at the same time 
(Beatrice's diescent to Limbo to plead with Virgil to be Dante's guide is presented 
by Virgil as exposition, offstage "backstory"). Virgil' s Reason cannot interact 
with Beatrige's Faith, nor is Virgil permitted to be present, even as a silent 
observer, at his disciple's moment of truth: Dante's penance — the truly hard 
part — is entrusted to Beatrice alone. 

The last flickering vestige of Virgil 's presence on this stage — just before the 
discovery of his final disappparance — is beautifully reflected in verse 48, 
"conosco i segni dell'antica fiamma," where Dante echoes in volgare another 
line from theAeneid, in which Dido addresses Anna, saying "Adgnosco veteris 
vestigia flammae" (IV, 23). Like verse 21, this line serves the doublé fiinction 
of a final tribute to Virgil and a signal of the awareness of Beatrice's entrance 
onto the scene. The dying fiame of Virgil 's Reason becomes the brightening one 
of Beatrice's Revelation. 

The simultaneous exit and entrance, or farewell and welcome, is but one of 
the many expressions of a prevailing sense of duality that imbues this passage. 
Though the idea of duality is a presence throughout the Commedia, it seems 
heightened and intensified here, adding to the sense of this scene as a climax for 
the poem as a whole. Regarding the conception of time here, Fergusson has 
written: 

The movement of the procession gave us time in its passage: now, in the Griffon 
we get its end and transcendence. For the Incamation is both the "point of 
intersection of time and etemity" and the end of time in another sense, the 
figure of the Second Coming and the Last Judgement. (186) 

Time is thus seen in its dual nature: as something finite which comes to an 
end here, and as something infinite which can never know an end, and just as 
Virgil makes his exit to be replaced by Beatrice, so does measurable time leave 
the stage to be superseded by time as something beyond human power to measure 
or describe. Another aspect of the duality of time is seen in verses 34 through 



THE ENTRANCE OF BEATRICE IN DANTE'S PURGATORIO 121 



42, where Dante makes reference to his two most important previous encounters 
with Beatrice, "già cotanto/ tempo era stato . . ." (34-35) referring to the last time 
he laid eyes on her — ten years previously, at the age of twenty five — , and "prima 
ch'io fuor di puerizia fosse ..." (42) to their first encounter, when Dante was only 
nine years old. 

In these three tercets, then, two different "sightings" of Beatrice are evoked, 
in two separate pasts, and in both of them, as in the present vision. Dante was 
overcome with "stupor, tremando, affranto" (36). It is this strong personal 
emotion that links the three episodes, giving us a sense of past(s) and present 
being fused into a unity. 

Elsewhere, this sense of the past in the present — this time the ancient past — 
is evoked in Dante's use of interpolations in Latin: Vemon (504n) and many 
other commentators have noted the Latin rhyme "senis/venis/plenis" in verses 
17,19 and 2 1 ; and Singleton has pointed out the choice of "patre/matre/atre" in 
verses 50, 52 and 54, suggesting a deliberate striving for a "more ancient sound" 
(74 1 -42), as these words clearly echo the Latin forms "pater," "mater" and "ater" 
(the latter meaning "black" or "dark" in Latin). Moreover, these evocations of 
the Latin past are fittingly integrated into evocations of two different "pasts" of 
the Commedia itself: Dante's acceptance of Virgil's guidance in the early part 
of the Inferno (51), and the cleansing of his tear-darkened cheeks at the outset 
of tììQ Purgatorio (53-54). 

The technique a modem-day rapper would cali "sampling" (inserting 
sound-bites copied from other sources — songs, quotes, pop culture miscellania — 
into one's music) was being employed centuries earlier by Dante in his 
experiments with the infant volgare illustre, though he extended and developed 
sampling to a rather higher level than our current versifiers have as yet achieved. 

Significantly, two other instances of sampling serve as the loci for the 
expression of another kind of duality: the much commented upon duality of 
gender. In verse 1 1, Dante has one of the "gente verace" sing out "Veni, sponsa 
de Libano." Singleton notes the origin of this citation as the Canti e le of 
Canticles 4:8, and further observes: ". . . our guiding expectation that Beatrice 
is the one who is to come is now further heightened by this cali for a 'sponsa,' 
in the feminine" (730) Yet a few verses further on (19), we have the welcoming 
cry "Benedictus qui venis!" in the masculine. The source being sampled here is 
the scene of Christ's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in Matthew 2 1 :4-9, 
and most commentators agree that it too is an allegorical reference to the 
imminent arrivai of Beatrice. Yet the masculine gender stubbomly transposed 
from the originai remains, in the understated words of John S. Carroll, "a 
difficulty" (quoted by Stambler 364n). 



122 



CARTE ITALIANE 



Commentators bave confronted this difficulty in a variety of ways. Singleton 
proposes that Dante is presenting a "deliberate ambiguity" between the identities 
Beatrice-Christ, but the commentaries of Bosco-Reggio take a somewhat dififerent 
position, saying that the masculine gender employed here "non prova altro che 
il carattere rituale dell'apparizione stessa e dei canti che l'accompagnano" 
(506). This view is echoed by J. S. P. Tatlock, who speaks of the "Benedictus" 
as "a cry of ceremonial welcome to great personages on earth" (quoted by 
Singleton 734). This idea that the welcome is meant to be taken in a ritual or 
generic sense — as opposed to a gender-specific one — seems to parallel the 
solution suggested by Dorothy Sayers, who cites the frequent use among the 
Provencjal poets of "the masculine title 'midons'-my liege" in addressing ladies 
of superior rank and culture (quoted by Stambler 364n). 

Cultural rationalizations notwithstanding, it seems to this reader that 
Singleton has come closest to the mark in suggesting that Dante wanted this 
incongruity to remain unresolved. By jogging our expectations of gender 
consistency, he forces the reader to perceive the problem differently, to look 
beyond the seeming duality of gender and into the possibility of a higher unity, 
thus reinforcing the process of the (in Fergusson' s words) "tuming, or conversion, 
of the soul, from the inward gaze to the upward gaze" (179). The difficulty 
encountered here then becomes a foreshadowing of and preparation for the 
difFiculties of Beatrice 's obscure language at the end of the canticle, as well as 
the cosmic complexities that will greet the reader in the Paradiso. 

On the threshold of Beatrice 's appearance (and the discovery of Virgil's 
disappearance), the ambiguities of gender and gender characteristics come thick 
and fast. In verses 43-44, Dante tums toward Virgil "col respitto/ col quale il 
fantolin corre a la mamma," yet refers to him in verse 50 as "Virgilio dolcissimo 
patre." The allusion to Virgil as a mother figure, foUowed by a patemal 
characterization, seems to mirror the ambiguities of the "sponsa" and "Benedictus" 
verses with respect to Beatrice. Furthermore, the sweetness of Virgil's patemal 
love seems to be set in contrast not only with the sins of Ève ("l'antica matre" 
of V. 52), but more importantly with the stemness of Beatrice, whose first words 
to Dante have a particular — and quite unexpected — sting. 

Singleton lays particular emphasis on this stemness in his reading (740, 
742), whereas other commentators read Beatrice' s first words in a somewhat 
more equivocai light. Bosco and Reggio, while noting the "aspro rimprovero" 
of Beatrice's words, go on to assert that "il vocativo iniziale [the naming of 
Dante] è, nonostante tutto, segno di affetto" (516). This reading of a familial 
affection on Beatrice's part, an affection that will serve to soften the harshness 
of her subsequent diatribe, is echoed by Stambler, who refers to her "non piangere 
ancora" (56) with its "mixture of fostering love and minatory reproach" (259). 



THE ENTRANCE OF BEATRICE IN DANTE'S PURGATORIO 123 



In the latter reading we can see more fullness, more "completeness" in 
Beatrice in relation to Virgil, for, though both of them have gender ambiguities 
clinging to them, Beatrice alone contains the opposing attributes "aspro/dolce," 
the duality of harshness and nurturing, within her being. Virgil 's sweet 
incompletion must give way to Beatrice' s "pietade acerba" (81), her "tough 
love," if you will, for this final leg of Dante's joumey. 

As we read fiirther on into the canto we can see that Beatrice' s severity 
appears less surprising when we consider it as a reaction to another incongruity : 
Dante 's tears of grief at Virgil 's loss, shed in the midst of ali this Edenic bliss. 
As Stambler states, Dante "contravenes the law and quality of the place by being 
imable to be happy even here" (260). His tears represent the last obstacle, the last 
vestige of his attachment to a personal, human firame of reference. They stain, 
or "darken," his previous purgation (see v. 54) and thus represent a colpa, or 
flaw, in that purgation process. This colpa requires an instant counterbalancing, 
which is provided in the form of Beatrice 's stemness. And yet this stemness 
reinforces the sense of duality here, creating a "paradiso problematico," or to 
quote Stambler again, "a feeling that the serpent stili lurks somewhere in the 
garden" (259). The resolution of this duality can be achieved only through 
Dante ' s penance, which indeed begins here with his contrition. It is Dante ' s own 
contrapasso, the balancing of his sorrow with his sin (the "no pain, no gain" 
formula), which will take on an almost mathematical precision. 

Since Dante 's penance initiates another episode of his joumey, it does not 
concem us here. There is stili much to be said about the threshold to that final 
episode, and how it prefigures what is ultimately revealed there. Revelation, in 
its most fiindamental signifìcance, requires seeing, vision, and Dante in these 
verses has a good deal to teli us about the meaning of vision, in both its earthly- 
physical and its allegorical-divine senses. 

At the very beginning of the canto, we are presented again with the image 
of the seven candles that initiated the processioni ". . . il settentrion del primo 
cielo/ che né accaso mai seppe né orto/ né d'altra nebbia che di colpa velo" (1- 
3). As Stambler tells us, 

the Septentrion of the candles differs from the one visible to mankind [the Ursa 
Minor] in being not subject to rising or setting or in being veiled by any 
atmospheric disturbance — only sin [colpa] has acted as a veil to hide it from 
men. (256-57) 

True vision, true clarity of sight, can occur only in the absence of sin, in a pure 
state. 

Dante expresses this by juxtaposing the naturai world (the stars which can 
be veiled by clouds) with the supematural (the seven candles that are beyond the 



124 CARTE ITALIANE 



rules of nature, yet can be veiied by man's sins). This image of a veil obscuring 
our true seeing is a cruciai one, which will recur throughout the remainder of the 
canto. It serves as the fundamental visual expression of Dante 's relationship to 
Beatrice here, the obstacle that only his penance can remove. Even the tears 
which darken Dante's cheeks in verses 53-54 can be read as a veil of sin coming 
from his ovm eyes, separating him from Beatrice and Revelation, for which 
indeed she will upbraid him in the following tercet. 

In verses 22 through 33, this veiling metaphor is expressed in some of the 
most beautiful lines in the canticle, if not the entire poem. First we see a lovely 
roseate suiuise, watching "la faccia del sol nascere ombrata,/ sì che per 
temperenza di vapori/ l'occhio la sostenea lunga fiata" (25-27), then the 
metaphor is revealed as Beatrice appears "dentro una nuvola di fiori" (28) and 
behind yet another "candido vel" (31). Dante masterfiilly conveys the idea that, 
just as the sun needs to be veiied in order for the human eye to endure it, so is 
it necessary to temper the brightness of God, of divine truth, so that, in the words 
of Ottimo, "l'occhio, cioè l'intelletto umano possa, mediante la mistica e 
figurativa Scrittura, sofierire li raggi e la chiaritade della divina Scrittura" (cited 
by Vemon 508n). 

In this observation, the veil metaphor is extended to include Dante's 
figurative language itself, the metaphor, allegory and other devices he utilizes 
to wrap this truth, this vision, in allusion and indirection. It would be difficult 
to find a more classic example of the use of allusion and indirection than the 
presentation of the entrance of Beatrice, the personification of this divine vision. 
The graduai lifting of the various physical, linguistic and cognitive veils is 
extended with elaborate subtlety and care over the entire first half of the canto. 
It is not until verse 73 that this lady behind the veils is explicitly self-identified 
as Beatrice, and even then she will not be completely visually unveiled to Dante's 
longing eyes until the end of the following canto. By contrast, the disappearance 
of Virgil is presented with a painful suddenness, and the sharp pang of tearful 
regret that Dante feels by having missed actually seeing Virgil 's final exit is a 
fitting initiation to the penance he will now serve under Beatrice. 

In both Virgil's exit and Beatrice's entrance, then, the physical faculty of 
sight is either lacking or impaired. Like the empty chariot, it is the thing not 
seen, or incompletely seen, which will take on enormous significance for both 
Dante and the reader. While the various veils that obscure Beatrice are, on a more 
literal level, obstacles to direct vision, they are also, on a deeper level, a means 
or a vehicle for allowing perception or awareness of the vision to take place at 
ali in the imperfect human soul — or intellect — in Purgatory. By contrast, the 
souls of the sinners in the Inferno, being under the earth, are deprived of any 
vision of the divine truth whatsoever. Those on their way to achieving Paradise, 



THE ENTRANCE OF BEATRICE IN DANTE'S PURGATORIO 125 



however, are motivated toward their salvation by this visual enticement, which 
will only become clear, direct vision at the completion of the purgation process. 

The veiling, then, has a didactic ftinction, and its efifect on Dante can already 
be seen in verses 37 through 39, where his spirit "sanza de li occhi aver più 
conoscenza,/ per occulta virtù che da lei mosse,/ d'antico amor sentì la gran 
potenza." As Grandgent comments, "... before he sees [Beatrice 's] features. 
Dante recognizes her by the love that fills him" (582). Ever the fast leamer. 
Dante is already benefiting from the lesson of the veil, Beatrice 's "occulta virtù," 
by feeling his "old love's great power" (Singleton's translation v.39, p. 329), 
rather than relying on his eyes alone for "conoscenza." In preparation for 
Paradise, he is developing higher ways of seeing as he begins to embrace the 
spiritual and metaphysical and let go of the merely physical and rational. Only 
with this new seeing can Dante's love for Beatrice be transformed into agape, 
the ethical, universal love which does not require a visible object (in the earthly 
sense) to be evoked, yet which provides the generating force necessary to lift him 
into the heavenly spheres. 

This spiritual recognition of the lady behind the veil is confirmed in verse 
55, when, at last. Beatrice speaks. There is virtually no commentator who has 
failed to take note of the highly significant fact that the first word Beatrice utters 
at this long-awaited moment is Dante's own name, and that it is moreover the 
first and only appearance of his name in the entire poem. Its positioning here 
seems designed for deliberate dramatic emphasis, even shock, and the debate on 
its significance has taken several differentforms. Citing Dante's own subsequent 
reference to this self-naming "che di necessità qui si registra" in verse 63, 
Singleton notes: 

Dante's confession to Beatrice ... in this canto and the next, is a personal 
confession. We are not to seek to read it as Everyman's. And this unique 
naming of Dante as the protagonist declares as much: such is its necessity. 

(743^4) 

Thus the self-naming in Singleton's reading is used to separate the two Dantes 
in the reader's mind, to make a distinction between Dante-pilgrim, in his 
allegorical fùnction, and Dante-poet, the individuai whose personal confession 
we are about to hear. 

The "necessità" is interpreted somewhat differently in the Bosco-Reggio 
commentaries. In the note to verse 63 they suggest that "Il nome qui è necessario 
forse anche per legare più strettamente la vicenda del Paradiso terrestre con 
quella terrena del suo amore" (Bosco-Reggio 5 1 7, n. 63). This view is supported 
in their introduction to the canto, where they discuss of the manner in which 



126 CARTE ITALIANE 



il privato e il terreno, restando tali, possano acquistare carattere universale e 
religioso. . . . [Dante] parte sempre dalla sua persona, per immediatamente 
trascenderla, ... [e quindi risulta che] l'azione salvifica e la situazione 
biografica sono una cosa sola. (Bosco-Reggio 508) 

These words are echoed in Fergusson's reading, where he asserts that Virgil's 
exit 

. . . reduces Dante to the immediate truth of his own being. And now, for the 
first and only time. Beatrice calls him by name, "Dante" (line 55), as though 
to wake him and us fi-om the dream of the vision and the poem. Dante the 
pilgrim and Dante the mortai man are one. (187) 

The sense of a joining of the two Dantes, of a duality being finally reconciled, 
which these readings reflect, seems to me stronger than the sense Singleton tries 
to convey of an intentional separation of the individuai and the allegorica! 
identities of Dante. It would be useftil here to cite Dante 's own Convivio for an 
elaboration on the "necessarie cagioni" for an author's self-naming. The first 
justification he gives is "quando sanza ragionare di sé grande infamia o pericolo 
non si può cessare" (I.ii. 12), going on to cite the example of Boethius defending 
himseLf against "la perpetuale infamia del suo essilio." The second justification 
is when "grandissima utilitade ne segue altrui per via di dottrina" (I.ii. 14), here 
illustrating his point with the example of Augustine in his Confessions. 
Applying this second reason, Dante 's self-naming can be read as support of the 
claim to emblematic status of his personal story as recorded in the Commedia, 
2i reading consonant with the idea of the resolution (and ultimate transcendence) 
of Dante's dual identity. 

The self-ordaining and self-privileging inherent in this act of setting 
himself up as an exemplar has a flip side for Dante, for, as other commentators 
have observed, there is a distinct element of self-humiliation and shame in his 
self-naming. Mark Musa, refìiting the suggestion that "the naming of the 
Pilgrim has a lofty, solemnsignificancesuggesting a second baptism," maintains: 
"Most critics believe that Beatrice is naming him to his shame."^ Indeed 
Grandgent's commentary supports this reading, observing that ". . . without this 
humiliating record of his identity, his confession — which is not merely an 
incident in the fiction bit also a real admission, before the world, of real sin - 
would have been incomplete" (582-83). 

The act of recording one's name, and by extension the very act of writing 
becomes, for Dante, an act of penance, for by writing — his name, his story — 
Dante is, in a sense, forced to see himself. This idea of being forced to confi-ont 
oneself, to one's shame, is moreover visually echoed further on when Dante casts 



THE ENTRANCE OF BEATRICE IN DANTE'S PURGATORIO 127 



his eyes downward toward the river during Beatrice 's rebuke, "ma veggendomi 
in esso, i trassi a l'erba,/ tanta vergogna mi gravò la fronte" (77-78). 

Grandgent notes: "Contrition is caused by seeing our real selves" (586). The 
name that Dante-poet has written on the page will be there for himself and ali 
readers to see, and the reflection of himself with which Dante-pilgrim is 
confronted is equally unavoidable. Both Dantes thus experience the impossibility 
of escape from the self, the inevitability of one's own identity and one's own 
shame. 

As mentioned above. Dante, by breaking (or at least bending) the rules of 
rhetoric in naming himself, creates a deliberate efifect: he dramatically thrusts 
the register of the poem imo a much more immediate, modem, almost profane 
dimension. Yet instead of reducing the allegory to a purely personal drama. 
Dante succeeds in fiising the allegorical and the personal, in reconciling perhaps 
the most important duality of the poem: that of his own identity. 

For when Dante-poet becomes a participant, a character in his own drama, 
the literary distance between poet and pilgrim ceases to be relevant to the reader. 
By giving this climactic moment what T.S. Eliot called "the greatest personal 
intensity in the whole poem" (263), Dante is allowing the reader a new access 
to the poem. It is as if the first person in this first-person narrative is finally being 
revealed to the reader, just as Beatrice is finally being revealed to Dante the 
author/protagonist. This revelation, in tum, allows us a kind of catharsis as we 
experience with Dante the tears of his contrition, his true purgation. 

At the same time, the revelation wakes us, to recali Fergusson's 
characterization, as if from a dream. It is the dream not only of the poem, but 
in the words of the poet, "di nostra vita," ours and his. And the wakeful state in 
which we now find ourselves is one where the dualities are reconciled and 
transcended, where the past is the present, the father is the mother, and the 
pilgrim is the poet — prepared at last for Paradise. 
John Laskin 
Department ofitalian 
University of California, Los Angeles 



Notes 

'Fergusson 187; though he appears to be quoting from an unidentified Charles 
Singleton essay. 

^Musa 326. It is interesting to note that Beatrice speaks not only Dante's name, but 
Virgil's and her own as well (v. 73), ali within the context of harsh rebuke and shame for 
Dante. 



128 CARTE ITALIANE 



Works Cited 

Dante Alighieri. // convivio. Ed. Maria Simonelli. Bologna: Patron, 1966. 

-. La divina commedia. Ed. & trans. C. H. Grandgent. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 

1972. 
. La divina commedia (Purgatorio). Ed. Umberto Bosco and Giovanni Reggio. 



Florence: Le Monnier, 1988. 

— . The Divine Comedy. Ed. & trans. Dorothy L. Sayers. New York: Penguin, 1955. 
— . The Divine Comedy (Purgatory). Ed. & trans. Charles S. Singleton. 2 vols. 
Princeton: Princeton UP, 1970. 
— . Purgatory. Ed. & trans. Mark Musa. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981. 



Eliot, T.S. Selected Essays. London: Faber and Faber, 1932. 

Fergusson, Francis. Dante 's Drama ofthe Mind: A Modem Reading ofthe Purgatorio . 

Princeton: Princeton UP, 1953. 
Stambler, Bernard. Dante 's Other World, the Purgatorio as Guide lo The Divine 

Comedy . New York: New York UP, 1957. 
Vemon, W. W. Readings on the Purgatorio of Dante, Chiefty Based on the Commentary 

of Benvenuto da Imola. London: Methuen, 1907.